Another MP piles pressure on the DWP over dodgy assessments

Emma Hardy and the DWP logo
Steve Topple

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing more calls to change the way it does its health and work assessments. This time, a Labour MP has probed the department over claimants’ being able to record these. But it ties into a wider and growing campaign surrounding the contentious assessment process.

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.

But moreover, as the Mirror reported, assessments can be littered with inaccuracies, or even lies. For example, one assessor asked a claimant ‘when did you catch Down’s syndrome?’

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Now, a Labour MP in parliament has asked the DWP if it will make a crucial change to the assessment process.

Questions in parliament

On 9 March, Labour MP for Hull West and Hessle Emma Hardy asked DWP minister of state Justin Tomlinson:

Will the minister look at providing recording equipment for every PIP assessment that takes place right across the country to improve transparency and fairness?

Tomlinson said the DWP had been “piloting” providing recording equipment for claimants, and that the result of that will be “coming to a close soon”.

She asked this because she is currently working with campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) on just such a project:

DPAC has launched a new scheme to make sure people get a fair hearing at their PIP health assessments. It’s rolling out free-to-use recording equipment. It’s not an issue at Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or Universal Credit WCAs as 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.

Half-hearted DWP 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.

On The Record

So, DPAC’s Sheffield branch has kick-started the On The Record campaign. It previously told The Canary:

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.

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.

To address the cost issue, DPAC has made the kits free with no deposit. But already, the DWP and the assessment companies are putting barriers in the way.

Making life even more difficult

DPAC Sheffield told The Canary:

DWP/IAS (formerly ATOS) are now using shameful tactics in an attempt to intimidate people into going through with their assessments without using recording kit.

PIP claimants have to give their local assessment contact centre at least three days notice of their decision to record their assessment. Claimants having home-based assessments in Sheffield have reported to us that assessors are turning up to their homes claiming not to know that the assessments were to be recorded. Then, they do not have the necessary consent forms with them. On at least two occasions claimants have felt strong-armed into going ahead with the assessment without recording it. This is despite the kit being available to use in their home at the time.

The DWP: cottoning on?

And the group says the assessors are starting to ask questions about the On The Record campaign:

one PIP claimant in Sheffield who was able to travel to the assessment centre reports that the assessor asked very detailed questions (during their assessment) about how the claimant got hold of the PIP recording kit. This is despite this having no bearing on their disability or eligibility for claiming PIP, and despite the DWP and assessment companies allowing claimants to use recording kit that meets pre-specified criteria.

Peppered between the official assessment questionnaire the assessor asked ‘do they bring this to your house or do you have to go somewhere to collect it?’; ‘this all fits together nicely doesn’t it, do they buy it as a complete kit?, and ‘do they provide the cassettes or do you have to buy them yourself?’.

It seems that the DWP and assessment companies are cottoning on to DPAC’s campaign. So, MP’s interventions are needed more than ever. As just because the DWP is “piloting” something, that doesn’t mean it will act on it. Therefore the pressure on this issue needs to be kept up. And DPAC’s campaign needs more support from MPs and the public.

Featured image via Emma Hardy – YouTube and Wikimedia

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  • Show Comments
    1. When I took my assessment, just over a year ago, they used my ability to open the new cassettes, and use the equipment, as evidence that I was not disabled – despite my having to ask the assessor to help me to open them! Apparently it showed that I was able to safely handle sharp objects and not burn myself on pans, etc, (I have no sensation in either hand, and cassette tapes and recorders are, it seems, notoriously sharp, pointed and hot!!) and the same “evidence” was cut and pasted about a dozen times throughout their report. When I applied for a tribunal, on the same day the DWP were notified,, they were able to “Look again” and reverse their decision to cut my benefits! It looked as if they had a list of people that they SHOULD give the benefits to, if they appealed. How else could they check the assessment and make a decision that quickly? It took them 3 months to do each mandatory reconsideration – both the one where they ignored the fact that I had provided a GPs letter, and the one where they read it, and rejected it anyway – so how come the Tribunal request (Marked “Evidence to follow”) was SO quick and simple for them to look at and reinstate the benefits? I wonder if the fact that I never got a Tribunal date meant that they got “Credit” for getting it right, but if a date had been issued it would be counted against their stats. I noticed that there was a fall in tribunal cases reported about that time…

    2. I recently had an assessment done by a nurse. She should be working in the NHS, not employed making peoples lives more difficult. It is little wonder that the NHS does not have enough nurses and other medical staff if they are employed by AIS. Also they are costing the taxpayer money.
      This could have serious implications with the Corona virus out break, when they will need to find more staff for our hospitals.
      This private company is an example of “jobs for the boys” which happens whenever a public service is put out to private tender.

    3. It’s clear they’re cutting down on disability benefit payments but they can’t do it medically because it’s medically impossible to simply heal like that; so they’re doing it bureaucratically, by employing quacks to redefine what was once disabled as now able. A few hundred years ago they called it magic, except the people accused of it were burned or hanged whereas now they receive good pay and bonuses for it.

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