Daily Living Descriptor 9 – Engaging with Others
The Upper Tribunal has recently made a group of decisions about PIP daily living descriptor 9 – ‘engaging with others face-to-face’.
Taken together, these decisions have established a meaning for Descriptor 9 which is quite different from the one which many people think it has. BuDS has therefore taken some time to bring all these decisions together to help you get a good understanding of what the descriptor now means and who can claim points under it.
PIP descriptor 9 talks about ‘engaging with others face to face’ and you can get points if you cannot engage with others face to face or need help to do so safely, repeatedly, in a reasonable time, and to an acceptable standard. Look at www.pipinfo.net for details of the descriptor.
The Upper Tribunal in November 2016 (case PIP/2523/2016) said that the descriptor covered engaging with strangers and not just familiar people. Later, in January 2017 (case PIP/2685/2016), the Upper Tribunal added that ‘engaging face to face’ means engaging in ‘social situations’, not formal professional ones like interviews or medical examinations, and that what was important was how well you could engage in a normal social situation. Now, the Upper Tribunal (decision CPIP/2983/2016) has said that Descriptor 9 looks at how you engage with one or a few people face to face, not how you react to a crowd.
WHAT DOES DESCRIPTOR 9 COVER?
Pulling all this together, it’s clear that PIP Descriptor 9 is designed for people who have difficulties in normal small scale social situations. The sort of social situation covered is very wide but would include for example sitting watching TV with your family, talking to a friend or a small group of friends, having a coffee with a group of people you know slightly, or falling into conversation with a stranger or one or two strangers, for example at a supermarket till, pub quiz or a sports event. The test is whether you can’t properly communicate with people, understand their body language, or establish a normal relationship in these sorts of social situations because of a mental or physical impairment or medical condition. If you can’t do this in these sorts of situation, then you are entitled to points depending on the level of help you need or the standard of your engagement.
What PIP descriptor 9 is NOT designed to cover is:
Professional or formal settings, like medical appointments, benefit assessments, Tribunal hearings etc. The fact that you can attend this sort of setting, especially if you have no choice, does not mean that you can manage to have normal social relationships in a small scale social setting.
Settings where there’s a minimum of social interaction, like buying things in shops or drinks in pubs, going to the post office, travelling by public transport, etc. The fact that you can attend this sort of setting, where you are not really engaging with people except on a very limited level, does not mean that you can manage to have normal social relationships in a small scale social setting. Case PIP/2523/2016 is particularly relevant here, where the Upper Tribunal said that even daily visits to the pub didn’t mean that a person was engaging socially for the purposes of PIP Descriptor 9, because the person involved was effectively socially isolated in a busy place.
Problems with crowds of people. If you have a problem in crowds, for example because you have panic attacks, this now does NOT qualify you for points under Descriptor 9. For example, it you have an anxiety disorder and run away from crowds, but could sit with your friends at home or in a pub, you won’t be entitled to points under descriptor 9. If you can’t have normal social relationships in a crowd, then that is relevant, but that situation would have to apply 50% of the time. As no-one spends more than half their time in crowds, this isn’t likely to earn any points. In a nutshell, having a problem in crowds isn’t relevant for descriptor 9 anymore.
WHAT THIS MEANS FOR YOU
If you have a problem most of the time with normal small scale face-to-face social situations with most of the people you meet, then you will be able to claim points under Descriptor 9. People with permanent conditions like autism, significant mental health issues and learning disability are obviously covered, as are people who are deaf and blind. But anyone who has a problem most of the time with normal small scale face-to-face social situations with nearly everyone, for any physical or mental reason, could potentially earn points, such as people with a facial disfigurement who shun company. The essential test is a high level of problems with social relationships.
The flip side of this is that anyone with a group of acquaintances, friends or family who they usually get along with is NOT going to earn points under Descriptor 9. People who have only one or two people that they can talk to and have a relationship with might qualify because their social engagement is so limited as not to be of an acceptable standard.
But if you do experience a high level of problems with social relationships because of your disability or condition, the fact that you go out and meet people professionally, or non-socially, shouldn’t count against you. If you can’t have a relationship with anyone owing to paranoia or autism, for example, the fact that you go out and buy stuff and visit your GP shouldn’t count against you.
If you have problems being in crowds, or being outdoors when everyone else is going about their business, or meeting strangers even casually in shops, then you probably WON’T score points under PIP Descriptor 9 for these difficulties, because these sorts of situation aren’t covered by the descriptor. You would only score points if you also have a problem with normal small scale face-to-face social situations with most of the people you meet, as described above.
It’s always difficult to say when Upper Tribunal decisions start being used in practice. This is a bunch of decisions taken over the last 5 months but all hanging together. It’s safest to say that the meaning shown above can be used immediately in your claims, mandatory reconsiderations and appeals, but it may take some months before DWP and assessors catch up.
This analysis is brought to you free of charge by BuDS Benefit Information Team – see https://buds.org.uk/benefits-information/. It is only general information and you should take advice on your own case.
You can read the latest judgement (and by searching all the others) here