A benefits claimant has won a landmark Supreme Court ruling against the government in a case that could pave the way for thousands more people with mental health problems to claim welfare support.
People who find social situations debilitating due to mental health conditions could now be entitled to claim the disability benefit, Personal Independence Payments (PIP), following today’s judgment.
PIP helps with the additional costs associated with having a disability – such as transport, paying for support workers and extra heating – and people can receive it whether they are in paid employment or out of work.
But applicants must first be assessed to determine whether or not they are eligible, in a process that has been derided as “draconian”.
Today’s ruling by panel of Supreme Court judges was made following a challenge by a PIP claimant, a man in his 40s known only as MM.
The case hinged on the way the points scoring system works in PIP assessments and reached the Supreme Court after earlier tribunal hearings.
The mental health charity Mind intervened to support MM’s challenge because of the wider issues his case raised for people with mental health problems and hailed the ruling as a “landmark moment” for people with disabilities.
Sophie Corlett, Mind’s director of external relations, said: “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.”
The Supreme Court judgment means that people with mental health problems and other disabled people will be entitled to support from PIP, which replaces Disability Living Allowance.
This will particularly affect people who need help to engage with other people and form relationships.
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 Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) needs to clearly define what counts as support and not dismiss the different 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.
Under the scoring system used by PIP assessors to decide who is eligible for money, assessors have to determine 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 get 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.
He successfully challenged the decision in the Inner Court in Scotland but the government appealed the decision in the Supreme Court
The DWP argued for a more limited or restricted understanding of what should be properly considered social support. Under this interpretation far fewer people would meet the threshold and so fewer people would be entitled to PIP.
The courts agreed with the arguments put forward by MM and Mind.
The judgement ordered: “A narrow and technical approach to the words ‘social support’ ... is unwarranted; it is inconsistent with the government’s objective of creating a benefit which is easier to understand and reaches those who need extra support to live independently and participate in everyday life.”
Mind said it was too early to know the exact number of people who will be affected, but the question covered by the ruling is one of the most relevant parts of the PIP assessment for 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.
A DWP spokeswoman said: “We will carefully consider the full judgment so that we, working with disabled people and stakeholders, implement it fully and fairly, so that claimants get the PIP support they are entitled to.
“Supporting disabled people and those with mental health conditions is a priority. That is why PIP is a better benefit for people with mental health conditions compared to Disability Living Allowance; the proportion who get the higher rate of PIP is five times higher than under DLA.”