Pippa Hammond’s epilepsy is so severe that someone has to wait in the room with her every time she has a shower, goes to the toilet or even blow dries her hair. Her fits are unpredictable and can begin at any time, with scars up the backs of her legs illustrating this from when she dropped the hairdryer during a seizure. It burst into flames on the carpet as she lay on the ground, spreading flames across the floor and setting her on fire. All Pippa, 24, remembers is waking up in an ambulance in terrible pain, then spending two months in hospital being treated for third degree burns. That’s just one example of an injury she has sustained from her epilepsy. She can’t work or drive, and is dependent on her friends and family for her daily life. Despite this, she has been denied any disability benefit under the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme, with her application scored zero in every category.
Pippa, from Shrewsbury, was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy in 2010, and was soon approved for disability benefit – a source of income which really helped the family since her mum had to give up work to care for her. She was getting £450 a month, enough to help her meet friends and get out of the house, which would be difficult otherwise as she lives in a rural area and can’t drive. So when she was scored zero on her PIP assessment and told she was therefore no longer eligible for any money, it was a surprise. ‘Nothing in my life has changed – if anything my condition has got worse with increased seizures,’ Pippa said. ‘Now losing this money had made my life very difficult now as that little bit of independence I have has been taken away completely. Her assessor judged her as capable of washing independently – even though she has to have someone in the room with her when she has a bath or a shower. ‘Basically if I don’t I could drown,’ Pippa told Metro.co.uk. ‘My seizures are unpredictable. They could be any minute of any day.’
Growing up, Pippa always wanted to join the RAF and said being refused because of her epilepsy has had a massive impact on her life. ‘I spent my childhood obsessed with planes and wanted to save lives like my grandad did which led me to join the RAF cadets for seven years and leave with qualifications in first aid, shooting and all kinds of experiences which taught me to look after myself in difficult situations. I even got the chance to take flying lessons at Sleap Airfield in Shrewsbury, and chose A-levels I felt would get me further in the RAF. ‘I then got diagnosed with epilepsy and it was then I was told I could not drive, fly or be alone, which led me to being refused for anything in the RAF. It has caused a lot of misery and upset and made me feel very depressed about my life in many ways.’ She added: ‘I’ve had no luck working – I was able to volunteer in a charity shop for six months until I had a seizure on the shop floor. The boss had to let me go due to putting customers in danger and not being allowed to be left on my own for even a second. It’s very hard not working and being turned down all the time.’
Her disability benefit was totally removed, and she is now living on £250 a month jobseekers’ allowance – despite staff at the job centre telling her it’s the wrong benefit for her. The loss of the money has had a drastic effect. ‘I’ve lost a lot of friends because I’m not able to to go out and see them,’ she said. ‘It has made me into a recluse. My last payment was in October, and it has literally put a halt on everything. Christmas was a complete no go.’ ‘I have gone from wanting to help people to having to have people help me.’ ‘I appealed straight away. The results are totally wrong. If a 24-year-old girl can’t even dry her hair on her own than what can she do?’
‘The bloke who came for the interview told me I should work – but the JSA assessors told me I’m not allowed to work. He said I had independence and I don’t see how that’s possible really. ‘We’re essentially living on what I get and what my dad earns – it’s a struggle.’ The interview lasted around an hour and a half, with the assessor coming to Pippa’s home because she wasn’t well enough to go to the office. ‘I have four or five injuries a year which put me in hospital. I dislocated my shoulder last year and that put me in hospital,’ Pippa told Metro.co.uk. But trying to justify why she should get the benefit was a struggle, especially as the man who asked the questions didn’t seem to be writing down much of what she told him, she claimed.
‘He was very young and he didn’t listen much,’ she said. I kind of felt like he wasn’t very interested.’ ‘I got quite emotional and had to take a break at one point.’ MPs investigated the application process for PIP after thousands of people complained it was unfair and stressful.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee recommended that every assessment should be recorded, given the complaints from many applicants (including Pippa) that things they said in the interview were not included in the final report.
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘We’re committed to ensuring everyone has a good experience of PIP. PIP assessments look at how people are affected by their disability or health condition over the majority of days in a year, rather than just assessing ability on a single day. ‘Under PIP, 29% of people receive the highest level of support, compared to 15% under DLA.’