top of page

        PIP Descriptor 9 explained. 

The Upper Tribunal recently made a decision (CPIP/1127/2017) that makes it easier for PIP claimants to show that they cannot engage with other people because of a physical or mental condition.


The claimant was a man with obsessive compulsive disorder who would have distressing thoughts when around other men.

The issue in this case was whether the claimant could get points under PIP Descriptor 9 (engaging with other people face to face). You can get the full 8 points if you can show that you can't engage with others because it would cause you overwhelming psychological distress or could lead to you harming yourself or another person (see 9(d)(ii) for the exact wording). Engaging with others means interacting appropriately, understanding body language and establishing relationships.

The key question in this decision was what 'establishing relationships' meant. The First-tier Tribunal when deciding this man’s case had said that it means having reciprocal, back-and-forth exchanges. The First-tier Tribunal said that this counted as 'establishing relationships', even though the claimant in this case couldn't have longer relationships or friendships with men.


The Upper Tribunal said that the First-tier Tribunal were wrong for two reasons.The first reason is that 'establishing a relationship' is more than just a back-and-forth exchange. It's more than being able to buy an ice cream from a shop or even small talk with a stranger. But it's less than 'developing or nurturing' a relationship. Also, 'relationship' means any kind of relationship.

The Tribunal said that since the claimant couldn't establish relationships with about half the population, that was enough to show that he could not engage socially with others. The claimant's evidence also seemed to show that he would suffer overwhelming psychological distress if he were to engage with men.

The second reason given by the Upper Tribunal was that even if the claimant's psychological distress did not reach an 'overwhelming' level, tribunals should consider whether Descriptor 9 is being performed to an acceptable standard. Not being able to interact with about half the population may not meet an acceptable standard of engaging with other people face to face.


If you have difficulty engaging with others, remember to explain how this links to your physical or mental condition. You don't get points just because you feel uncomfortable around certain people or don't like certain people.

It might help to explain to the tribunal what your relationships with others are like. What sort of interactions do you avoid? What level of interaction is okay for you? What happens when you try to make a new friend? What effect does this have on you, especially on your behaviour and your mental state?

Even if you don't suffer 'overwhelming psychological distress' or pose a substantial risk of harm to yourself or others when you meet other people, the tribunal should be looking at whether you can interact with others to an acceptable standard.


The Upper Tribunal made this decision on 29 August 2017 but it’s a clarification of the law rather than a new definition. This means that this decision applies straightaway to your claim, mandatory reconsiderations and appeals, whenever the case was decided. It may take some months before DWP and assessors catch up with this decision, however.

This analysis is brought to you free of charge by BuDS Benefit Information Team. It is only general information and you should take advice on your own case. If you value our entirely voluntary charitable work, please consider making a donation via

You can read the full judgement here:…/rc-v-secretary-of-state-for-work-and-p…

©A1 ESA/DLA/PIP Benefits Help and Support (UK only)

bottom of page