MLA voices concerns after PIP stopped

Paula Bradley MLA.
Paula Bradley MLA.

A Glengormley woman has told of her distress after having her Personal Independence Payments (PIP) stopped - despite her GP declaring her unfit to work.

Esther Sofley was last year awarded a payment which was one point below the highest level for care.

A former community care worker, the 49-year-old was forced to give up her job due to a number of health concerns including heart failure, asthma and degenerative bone disease.

She also underwent a hip replacement in recent years.

Esther initially sought to have her PIP award increased to a higher level of care as her health deteriorated further.

But after challenging the level of support during an appeal last month, her PIP award was instead reduced to zero.

As well as cutting her benefits, the decision also means she will have to give up a Motability vehicle provided under the scheme.

“Last year my GP told me that I wasn’t fit to work; I get very breathless and I have difficulty walking as my legs swell,” she said.

“The car meant a lot to me as I depended on it to get around. Now I’m going to have to give it back in a few weeks and rely on other people to take me wherever I need to go.

“There is no money coming in at the moment either which has been a bit of a shock.

“I have reapplied for PIP again from the start but the whole thing has left me feeling very depressed.”

Introduced in Northern Ireland in 2016, PIP is a new benefit that is gradually replacing Disability Living Allowance (DLA).

Rather than an applicant’s specific condition, the benefit focuses instead on how they function on a day to day basis.

North Belfast MLA Paula Bradley has written to the Appeals Commissioner on Ms Sofley’s behalf.

“Unfortunately one of the risks of going to appeal is that your award can be removed,” Ms Bradley said.

“It’s very difficult as this has left Esther in real financial hardship.”

Inquiries about benefits at her constituency office have increased “tenfold” since the introduction of PIP, the DUP representative added.