THE family of a grandfather who died during a 'cruel and lengthy' benefits appeal have won his case – seven months after his death.

Jeff Hayward died in June having spent the last 18 months of his life fighting a decision that he was fit to work.

Relatives and supporters say the stress of his appeal and money worries contributed to his death and likened the case to the 2016 Ken Loach film I, Daniel Blake.

Despite working all of his adult life, Mr Hayward was refused Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) after assessors claimed he was fit to work – contrary to what his GP said. Now, with help from Ribble Valley Citizens Advice, the family have had the decision overturned.

Mr Hayward, of Whittle Close, Clitheroe, died from a heart attack aged 52.

After being forced to stop work as a warehouseman with Silentnight Beds in Barnoldswick in 2016 because of his health, for the first time in his life, he applied for benefits.

Lancashire Telegraph:

His GP provided him with evidence that he was unfit for work, and according to his daughter, Holly Hayward, Mr Hayward thought this would be enough to enable him to claim.

However, he was refused ESA in November 2016, after a DWP health assessor awarded him zero disability points, deciding he was capable of working.

Miss Hayward, 29, said: "When he went to claim he had to be medically assessed, and they could see he was in pain.

"When the DWP refused him benefits, even though his GP said he was unfit to work, he felt worthless.

"He was someone who really needed help and they wouldn't give it to him."

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Following the refusal, Mr Hayward launched an appeal, but despite support from his GP, it failed.

Ribble Valley CAB became involved with his case and helped him apply for permission to appeal again.

Eighteen months after he began battling the system, Mr Hayward died.

Mr Hayward's family and the CAB now believe he was wrongly subjected to a process that was far more complicated and lengthy than necessary.

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And they are certain that his heart condition was made worse by his stressful financial situation due to lack of benefits.

In the film, I, Daniel Blake, a widowed carpenter is depicted as being let down by the benefits system after he suffers at heart attack.

Miss Hayward said: "My dad was a really outgoing family man, a loving grandfather to my daughter, Ivy, two.

"He worked all his life and had never once claimed benefits."

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She added: "When he got ill and had to stop work it changed him, he became depressed and worried about paying the mortgage.

"He had cellulitis in his legs and developed huge ulcers that turned into septic holes. The whole thing made him really ill and unable to walk very far.

"He had to go and have his bandages changed at the hospital three times a week, which could take quite a long time, but even if he could've worked, what sort of employer would let someone take that amount of time off work?

"He tried to appeal the case but the stress of it, the fact it was refused the first time, on top of his illness, it made him worse.

Lancashire Telegraph:

She added: "The whole experience was awful. Dad died of heart complications but I believe they were made worse by the stress of the benefits system."

After Mr Hayward died, Ribble Valley CAB advised Miss Hayward to continue with his appeal.

Manager of Ribble Valley CAB, Katy Marshall, said: "Holly continued with her dad's appeal and on January 10 this year his family were told by a new tribunal hearing panel that the decision had been reversed.

"Based on the same medical evidence provided to them by his GP two years and three months earlier, they found he was entitled to the highest rate of benefit.

"He would have been awarded ESA Support Group benefit, for people who are not capable of even seeking to return to work.

"For him to go from zero points to 15, which is the highest number of points on the benefit scale seems ridiculous.

"This is in many ways a real-life I, Daniel Blake case."

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Ribble Valley CAB calculated that the back pay owed to Mr Hayward amounted to £8,887, which would've made a huge difference to him and his family financially.

Miss Hayward said her family have been treated in an 'unfair and cruel' way.

She said: "The process was so slow, slower that it should’ve been for someone who needed help.

"I think if he had had the benefit from the start, he might still be with us.

"He was genuinely poorly, but they made my dad feel that he was worthless."

Lancashire Telegraph:

Mrs Marshall added: "We are often concerned about the quality of the DWP medical assessments which carry so much weight.

"You have to apply for a review called a 'mandatory reconsideration' before you can appeal a decision. The reviews rarely change the decision and we feel they are a waste of time, only making the process is difficult and slow.

"The benefits system can have a dreadful impact upon people who are entitled to support.

"People deserve a fair system that allows them some dignity.

"From what we saw, Jeff Hayward's suffering was increased by the DWP system. It needs improvement. At present it is cruel as Mr Hayward's family have said."

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A spokesperson from the DWP said: "Our thoughts are with the family at this sad time. However, the correct process was followed with Mr Hayward’s Employment Support Allowance claim.

"Decisions are made following consideration of all the information provided by the claimant, including supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist.

"Often when decisions are overturned people have provided further evidence in support of their claim."