Dodgy DWP assessments are now being exposed across the UK

A ripped brow envelope representing benefits like PIP for terminally ill people and the DWP logo
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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is constantly subject to criticism over its assessments. But now the reality of them is starting to be exposed across the UK. And you can help make this a nationwide initiative.

The DWP: the dodgiest of assessments

As The Canary has repeatedly reported, DWP health and Work Capability Assessments (WCA) are contentious. For example, Independent Assessment Services (IAS), formally ATOS, does Personal Independence Payment (PIP) health assessments for the DWP. But the company has been dogged by controversy. From probes into “dishonest” assessments, to high rates of appeal wins, IAS has often come under fire. As The Canary also reported, complaints to the DWP about IAS have shot up by more than 1,400% since 2013. Most recently, a judge said that some of the letters the DWP sends to claimants may be unlawful.

Now grassroots campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) is aiming to redress the balance in the claimiants’ favour. So, it’s launched a brilliant new scheme to make sure people get a fair hearing at their PIP health assessments by rolling out free-to-use recording equipment.

It’s not an issue at Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit WCAs. The private companies who do those assessments have recording equipment, but IAS doesn’t. That’s why DPAC has called its campaign On The Record.

Breaking ground

The Canary caught up with the Sheffield branch of DPAC. It’s been at the centre of the campaign. The group stated:

It started with Manchester DPAC a couple of years ago. Not under this name, but the idea of putting a recording kit together was theirs.

Then, after people in Sheffield reported to us that they had had inaccuracies, incidents where they felt bullied or brow beaten at PIP assessments, we set out to fundraise for a kit in Sheffield. But it was rather naive of us to think one kit would be enough for a city of this size. Because when the scheme was announced in our local press, and on the Disability News Service (DNS) website, we received over 60 emails in two days from people asking for help.

Read on...

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But they weren’t solely from people in Sheffield or South Yorkshire. We had emails from people all over Britain, including Scotland, Wales and as far down south as Truro in Cornwall.

That’s when we realised it was needed nationally. So, we started the ‘On The Record’ campaign.

Half-hearted measures

Currently, DWP guidelines state that claimants can record their assessments. But it says they have to:

provide two copies of the recording at the end of the assessment in a way which ensures that the recording has not been tampered with and that it is a complete, reliable and accurate record of the assessment. One copy must be given to the… healthcare professional at the end of the assessment.

Approved media at present are standard CD and audio tapes only.

These old-fashioned methods are problematic. For example, two tape recorders from Argos could cost over £60. And you’d only need to use them (hopefully) a few times. So, not only is DPAC addressing this upfront cost issue, but it’s also being conscious about any cost to claimants.

Free to all

DPAC Sheffield told The Canary:

One thing that’s very important to us is for these kits to be loaned free and on a trust basis. We fully understand that even a £10 or £5 deposit would put up a barrier for some people. Therefore, so far in Sheffield we’ve supported over 30 people with absolutely no issues around people respecting the kit or not returning it in time. People understand that there’s others in the same boat and have all been really good about returning the kit.

Spreading far and wide

So, how far has DPAC’s DWP recording campaign spread? The Sheffield group said:

So far between us and other groups like Recovery in the Bin, there’s over a dozen locations nationally; but there is a great need for them to be in place in every region.

Locally, we currently have four PIP assessment recording kits in Sheffield and have donated one to Disability Sheffield, and another to Derbyshire Unemployed Workers Centre.

Some MPs have now come out in support of the campaign:

The legendary lawyer-turned-campaigning-broadcaster Peter Stefanovic has also come out in support:

Assessments still need scrapping

The support the campaign is getting is growing. But DPAC Sheffield said it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to DWP health assessments:

Ultimately we continue to fight [to] have the PIP and ESA/Universal Credit assessments scrapped. The DWP must replace it with [a] new system that supports each person according to their needs. But in the meantime it’s vitally important that people have the option to record their PIP assessments.

If you are accused of committing a crime, you’re entitled to a recording of your interview. You’re not told that you can only have a recording if you bring your own equipment.

Why are disabled people not afforded the same level of consideration?

With around 76% of PIP decisions being overturned at tribunal stage it’s blatantly obvious that there’s something very wrong with the assessments.

It’s high time these centres provided recording equipment. Until they do, we will.

The On The Record campaign sums up everything that’s good about some disability campaigns. Instead of giving money to a faceless charity, people can actively make a difference immediately to people’s lives. And with the DWP showing no signs of improving anytime soon, whatever can be done to mitigate the worst of its effects must be welcomed. 

Featured image via The Canary and Wikimedia

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Get involved

  • To chat about setting up a local campaign, to order a t-shirt, or for more information email DPAC Sheffield on [email protected]

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