A BICESTER woman left feeling 'let down' and 'depressed' after being forced to fight to keep her disability benefits has called for changes to the Government's assessment process.

Gill Willis was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) in 1990.

She has difficulty with mobility and balance, and uses a mobility scooter and zimmer frame to help her get around.

The 61-year-old had been receiving Disability Living Allowance (DLA) but last year faced a reassessment to move onto PIP – the benefit replacing DLA.

Following the assessment, the retired British Airways employee learnt her payment was being downgraded and she would receive hundreds of pounds less each month.

Mrs Willis, of Pipits Croft, Langford, said the assessor had no understanding of MS and got a lot of things wrong in her report.

She said: “She deduced from me picking up my handbag to get my prescription list out that I must be able to prepare and cook food.

"How can picking up a handbag equate to holding a knife? She took too much from what she thought she could see.

"If she’d asked me to go into the kitchen and cut an onion she would’ve seen I wouldn’t have been able to. I missed out on the full [payment] rate by one point.”

The mother-of-one challenged the decision and faced a tribunal hearing in April – nine months after the initial assessment.

She said: “It was an incredibly stressful process, I was so anxious, and stress makes my MS symptoms worse.

"I almost gave up but when I got there they were very helpful and asked just the one question – how I cope with taking medication.

"I said I needed my husband Gary's help.

"They ticked that as permanent need and it was all done, the full rate was reinstated."

"I was so relieved I just burst into tears.

"All I could think was, 'how can they do this to me?'.

"I felt so let down and small. Even though it was over I felt low and depressed."

She said the process needed to be changed so there was less focus on bureaucracy and more on people's individual needs.

Disability charity MS Society last week revealed that at least £6m a year in benefits has been taken from people living with MS since the new PIP system began being rolled out in 2013.

Findings showed almost one in three people who received the highest rate mobility component of DLA had their payments downgraded or denied after being reassessed between October 2013 and October 2016.

For those receiving the highest rate for the care part of DLA, nearly a quarter faced cuts under PIP’s equivalent daily living component.

Genevieve Edwards, director of external affairs at the MS Society, said: “These staggering figures show how PIP is failing some of the most vulnerable people with MS who need the highest level of support.

"It doesn’t make sense that people are losing money they once qualified for, when they are living with a progressive condition that will never improve.”

“The Government urgently needs to fix this broken system so that PIP assessments reflect the realities of living with MS.

"Having MS is hard enough; it shouldn’t be made harder by a welfare system that doesn’t make sense.”