The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is caught up in another scandal. This time, it involves its contentious assessments. But it appears the story is getting lost amid Brexit.
On Saturday 1 February, the Daily Record published a story on DWP assessments. These are where the department sends claimants to a private company. It then looks at the person’s health to decide if they can get social security. There are two types of assessments.
- The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is for Universal Credit and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
- Health assessments are for Personal Independence Payments.
The assessments are contentious. For example, Independent Assessment Service (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 been under fire. As The Canary recently reported, complaints to the DWP about IAS have shot up by more than 1,400% since 2013.
And now the Daily Record has revealed more damning evidence about these assessments.
A fresh scandal?
As it reported, when one of the private companies does an assessment, it sends its paperwork to the DWP. But then, the department ‘secretly’ audits these. And the Daily Record revealed some startling figures to do with IAS.
It found that the DWP:
- Audited 11,760 IAS assessments last year.
- The DWP “amended” 1,840 of these.
- It found 460 of them “unacceptable”.
The Daily Record gave the example of one claimant. As it reported:
a Scot with multiple sclerosis and mental health problems was accidentally sent before-and-after copies of his assessment…
The paperwork had been submitted by a health professional after a face-to-face meeting, but was then secretly audited by officials without any follow up conversation.
Both versions were sent back, showing he would have qualified for additional support until his scores were lowered.
The altered copy removed a nurse’s observation that the man needed help to prepare a simple meal. References to his top being on inside out were removed.
The original said he has regular specialist input while the audit brazenly stated he has none.
The DWP says…
The DWP told the Daily Record:
We are absolutely committed to ensuring people receive the support they are entitled to.
That is why assessments are carried out by qualified health professionals and we continue to work with them to ensure quality is continuously improving.
Sometimes assessment reports are returned to providers to ensure we have as much information as possible to reach an accurate decision.
But all this comes against a backdrop of a disability ‘clamp-down’ by the DWP.
Who’s to blame?
It’s hard to know if the assessment company is at fault, or if it’s the DWP. As Disability News Service (DNS) reported, in 2018/19, more than 36% of IAS assessments were “substandard”. This could indicate IAS is at fault.
But also in 2018/19, tribunals upheld 73% of claimant’s PIP appeals. The DWP would be to blame for this, as it makes the final decision on a person’s PIP claim. Moreover, over half a million people won these between 2013 and 2018. And as DNS also reported in December 2019:
figures, released the day after the election, show that new claimants are 21 per cent less likely to be awarded… (PIP) than they were last year.
So, there appears to be equal chaos at both the private companies and the DWP. But ultimately, it’s claimants who suffer.
Campaigner and disability rights activist Paula Peters is furious. She told The Canary:
It’s an absolute outrage & travesty that the DWP are marking down PIP assessments and denying thousands of disabled people the support they are entitled to. It causes them further distress and plunges yet more disabled people further into poverty. This needs a thorough investigation and staff responsible held to account.
Stop the assessments
Between April 2013 and 30 April 2018, almost 12 people a day died. They were waiting for the DWP to make a decision on PIP claims. The chaos with assessments must surely just delay people’s claims. And at worst, these deaths are the end result. During the 2019 general election, Labour pledged to bring DWP assessments “in-house”. But the department is responsible for many of the failings with these assessments. So, giving it overall control would solve little. The whole, disastrous system needs an overhaul. And the DWP needs to stop putting sick and disabled people through assessments in the first place.
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