Landmark Supreme Court judgment means thousands could get disability benefit for struggling in social situations

Posted On: 
18th July 2019

Sophie Corlett, Mind’s Director of External Relations, comments on the Supreme Court judgment that means more people with mental health problems will be entitled to support from Personal Independence Payment. 

Many more people with mental health problems who find social situations debilitating could now be entitled to claim a disability benefit, a landmark judgment ruled today (Thursday 18 July).

The Supreme Court judgment means that many more people with mental health problems and other disabled people will be entitled to support from Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which replaces Disability Living Allowance. This will particularly affect people who need help to engage with other people and form relationships.

The ruling, by panel of Supreme Court justices, was made following a challenge by a PIP claimant, a 47-year-old man known as MM, about the way the points scoring system works in PIP assessments. Mind intervened to support MM’s challenge because of the wider issues his case raised for people with mental health problems.

It also marks the first time a case about PIP has been heard in the Supreme Court, the final court of appeal in the UK for civil cases.

MM and Mind successfully argued that the DWP needs to clearly define what counts as support and not dismiss the kinds of help that many people with mental health problems rely on. The new ruling could especially affect people whose mental health problems lead to isolation and problems interacting. This means more people who need different kinds of help, such as ongoing encouragement from a close family member to leave their house and engage socially, will be able to benefit from PIP.

Sophie Corlett, Mind’s Director of External Relations, said:

“This is a landmark moment in the ongoing battle to make sure disabled people are supported through our benefits system to live well.

“Far too many are struggling to claim benefits they need because of draconian assessments, which often fail to take fully into account the impact a mental health problem can have. Living with a mental health problem can be extremely isolating but with the right support people can maintain important social connections that in turn can improve their wellbeing.

“Mind hopes, that, with this ruling, thousands more will be able to benefit from much needed help, which could go towards paying for a support worker, or for other help to see trusted family and friends or form and build social ties at support groups.

“We are very proud to have intervened in support of the individual who took this case on behalf of thousands of people with mental health problems.”

Under the scoring system used by PIP assessors to decide who is eligible for money, assessors have to decide if someone needs ‘prompting’ to engage with other people, or if they needed ‘social support’.

A decision that someone needs ‘prompting’ means they receive a score of two, while if someone needs ‘social support’ they need a score of four.

PIP claimants need to score a total of eight points across all criteria to be eligible for the basic rate of payment, £58.70 a week. They need to score twelve points to be eligible for the enhanced rate of £87.75 a week. 

Confusion over the criteria, and the difference between ‘prompting’ and ‘social support’ meant that MM was originally deemed ineligible for PIP. MM successfully challenged the decision in the Inner Court in Scotland but the Government appealed the decision to the Supreme Court. Mind intervened to support MM’s challenge because of the wider issues his case raised for people with mental health problems applying for PIP.

The Department for Work and Pensions was arguing for a more limited or restricted understanding of what should be properly considered ‘social support’. Under this interpretation far fewer people would meet this threshold and so fewer people would be entitled to PIP overall.

The courts agreed with the arguments put forward by MM and Mind*. This means that many more people will be entitled to four points under this activity rather than two. For thousands that could mean the difference between getting a PIP award and being turned down for the benefit.

It is too early to know the exact number of people who will be affected. However Mind is aware that this question is one of the most important and relevant parts of the PIP assessment for thousands of people with mental health problems. Since PIP was introduced more than 425,000 people with conditions classed as ‘psychiatric disorders’ have been turned down for the benefit.