The family of a man who spent the last 18 months of his life fighting a decision that he was fit to work has won his case – seven months after he died.
Jeff Hayward, from Clitheroe, Lancashire, was 52 when he died of a heart attack in June last year, two weeks before he was due to go to a disability benefit appeal tribunal.
The father-of-two and grandfather had cellulitis – a painful bacterial skin infection – on his legs and his GP deemed him unfit to work. Nevertheless, in November 2016, after losing his job of more than 25 years, he was refused employment support allowance (ESA) after a health assessor awarded him no disability points.
He went through five stages of applications and appeals, according to Ribble Valley Citizens Advice, which assisted him. But it was only last month that his daughter Holly, who took up his case after his death, was told he was entitled to the highest rate of ESA.
His family will have been paid his backdated benefits but remains angry about the stress Hayward was put through and that the decision was overturned on the basis of the same medical evidence he had previously submitted.
Holly Hayward said: “For someone who was genuinely ill, worked all their life, never asked for a penny [previously], it made him feel worthless. He was stressed and depressed, it made him feel worse than he already did.
“He had two letters the GP had written to them and obviously that still wasn’t good enough – until I went [to the upper tribunal], when it was good enough.”
Ribble Valley Citizens Advice said Hayward was anxious ahead of his disability benefit appeal tribunal due to take place on 4 July last year. His daughter is clear that the stress did not kill him but equally adamant that “it didn’t help”.
She said her father, who worked as a warehouse man, had never previously claimed benefits but when he lost his job had painful ulcers and large patches of skin through which you could his veins were visible. Overturning the original decision, the upper tribunal found that Hayward could not walk more than 50 metres.
His daughter said: “If you had a problem, everyone went to my Dad. He’d help everyone out, everyone loved my Dad, he was amazing. It was hard [fighting his case] but I just wanted to get it for my dad because of all the stress they had put him through.”
Work capability assessments, used to ascertain eligibility for ESA, have been dogged by complaints that they are inaccurate, bureaucratic and have a negative impact on claimants. Statistics published in 2015 showed that almost 90 people a month were dying after being declared fit for work.
Katy Marshall, the Ribble Valley Citizens Advice manager, said: “This is far from being an isolated case as sadly we see many very incapacitated people who struggle to appeal against the decision that they are fit for work. We often hear: ‘But my doctor says I can’t work. How can they say that I can?’ They can and they do – it is a cruel and unfair system for a great many people.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Our thoughts are with the family at this sad time. However, the correct process was followed with Mr Hayward’s ESA claim.
“Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.
“Often when decisions are overturned people have provided further evidence in support of their claim.”