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Sarah’s successful PIP claim

Photo: Sarah smiling at the camera in her room.

Applying for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) helped Sarah gain confidence and live a more independent life.

When Sarah (20) first applied for PIP, she was nervous. “You hear all these horror stories about PIP,” says Sarah. “You hear about people who were denied it the first time and had awful experiences applying and getting assessed.”

PIP is a benefit for people aged 16-65 who have a disability that means they have difficulty with daily living or getting around. Some find the PIP application process difficult, and this can put deaf young people off applying.

Sarah, who is severely deaf and wears two hearing aids, attended mainstream school. Deafness runs in the family; Sarah’s grandparents, mum and two brothers are all deaf too. She thinks coming from a deaf family made life easier when she was growing up, but at school Sarah didn’t have a lot of support or any deaf friends. “I was lucky to have understanding friends, and I still do, but I felt like I missed out on a lot,” she says.

After school, Sarah went straight to college, where she completed the Prince’s Trust Team programme, and then began a nursing course. Unfortunately, chronic pain following an operation on her tailbone meant she had to leave the course.

“She was really down,” says Sarah’s mum, Jane. “She was spending all her time in her room, but then she got a grip on things and said, ‘It’s not going to beat me.’ It was onwards and upwards from there.”

Sarah hadn’t previously received any other disability benefits. It was her audiologist who put her in touch with Marie, a Children and Families’ Support Officer at the National Deaf Children’s Society. Marie helped Sarah to apply for PIP as well as the Independent Living Fund (ILF), an additional benefit for disabled people living in Scotland and Northern Ireland.

“Marie was brilliant,” says Sarah. “She helped me fill out the form properly. There are things I forget that I struggle with. For example, when I’m asleep or in the bath I can’t hear things like the fire alarm. She made me aware of everyday situations like that, which really helped.”

As part of the application process, Sarah then had to attend an assessment. “It was really nerve-wracking,” she says. “A lot of people say PIP assessors aren’t the kindest but mine was lovely. She was very understanding and very accommodating of my needs.” Because of Sarah’s chronic pain, the assessor came to her home. “I’d say if you can get a home visit, definitely go for that because it’s a lot more relaxed.”

Sarah’s aunt was also in the room to help if Sarah had any problems communicating, but she found the assessor clear enough to understand. “The assessor was a good laugh,” says Sarah. “She was a former nurse and she put everybody at ease.”

Sarah answered all the assessor’s questions honestly and two weeks later she was happy to learn that her application was successful. “It was a huge relief,” says Sarah. “I’d been told to prepare for the worst.”

Sarah’s boyfriend, Jude, who isn’t deaf but has haemophilia, struggled to get PIP and had to appeal the decision several times which had made Sarah nervous about her application. “I think having to appeal the decision would have been really difficult,” says Sarah. “But you just have to keep on going. You have to persevere. You’ll get there eventually.”

Since her successful application, Sarah is enjoying her independence. She has a part-time job in a local shop and volunteers for the National Deaf Children’s Society. “I don’t like having to rely on anyone,” she says. “I don’t like having to ask for help, so having PIP helped me feel more independent.”

"PIP helps me with daily life."

Sarah has used her PIP and ILF contributions to fund a Roger radio aid, driving lessons, and college courses in British Sign Language (BSL). Sarah enjoys signing so much that she’s now set up an after-school club at her old high school, teaching basic BSL to pupils and teachers. She’s keen for other deaf students who are currently studying at the school to have better support. And when a deaf couple came into the shop where she works, Sarah was able to sign with them.

Sarah also enjoys drawing, painting and working on digital artworks. “It’s a way for me to wind down, relax and kind of put everything else on pause,” she says. “It gives me my own wee world for a while.”

Now, Sarah is hopeful about the future. “I’ve honestly no clue what I want to do at college right now apart from sign language,” she says. “I’d like to go to university in the future. I’d like to work with deaf children and deaf people.”

Sarah’s positive experience of applying for PIP has made her feel more confident about applying for other types of support further down the line, such as Disabled Students’ Allowances. “When you hear all the stories about PIP, you go in expecting the worst,” Sarah adds. “But for me it was not that bad at all and I encourage any deaf young person to apply if they think it will benefit them.

“It’s easier said than done, but don’t expect the worst. Answer honestly and if you need them to do something to meet your needs then just ask.”

“It’s given her independence,” says Jane. “She’s quite stubborn, but sometimes she just needs that bit of extra help. Me and her dad are both very proud of her, except when she asks for a lift 20 minutes before she needs to be somewhere!”

Sarah laughs. “It won’t be like that once I can drive!”