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News and Opinions about MS, Health & Disability

Benefit assessment contractors hiding in plain sight

Assessments of people’s applications for disability benefits in the UK, are carried out by contractors for the government. That is, of course, well known.

It is equally common knowledge that those contractors are Atos, Capita, and Maximus. Between them, they have made hundreds of millions of pounds from their contracts with the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Quite a lucrative business, eh?

I’d say it is akin to a licence to print money at the expense, and terror, of those applying for either employment and support allowance (ESA) or personal independence payment (PIP).

Assessments, especially outcomes of face-to-face interviews with claimants, have been widely criticised – not least by tribunals that hear appeals against them.

Atos has tried to hide its involvement in PIP assessments by rebranding itself as Independent Assessment Services. It announced the change last summer. Call it what you will, though, it is still Atos Healthcare and its abysmal record – but in disguise.

But what, you may ask, is the Health Assessment Advisory Service of the grandly-named Centre for Health and Disability Assessments? Sounds as though it could be part of the government.

Assessments for benefits

The CHSA website says:

The Government provides certain benefits for people who are out of work due to long-term illness or as a result of a disability or health condition. The Government has decided that the best way to assess eligibility is through an independent health assessment under the Health Assessment Advisory Service.

Centre for Health and Disability Assessments provides the service on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The contract between DWP and Centre for Health and Disability Assessments started 1 March 2015.

Healthcare Professionals from Centre for Health and Disability Assessments conduct one-to-one assessments with individuals seeking disability benefits and delivers a report to DWP. DWP then uses this information to determine a person’s benefit entitlement.

assessmentAll the way through, the website fails to mention the real identity of who or what is behind the CHDA. Then, at the very bottom, under the name of the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, in small print it reveals ‘Operated by MAXIMUS’.

Surprise, surprise! Enough said, I think.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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Government contractor must pay £5,000 over dishonest assessment, court decides

A court has ruled that a woman with a disability be paid £5,000 compensation by a government contractor. The was because one of its assessors made a dishonest report that led to her being given insufficient benefits.

The contractor, Atos, is one of the companies that conduct assessments for the UK’s department for work and pensions (DWP). It assesses people claiming employment and support allowance (ESA), and personal independence payment (PIP). These are claimed by many with MS, other diseases, and disabilities.

Atos

Vanessa Haley (Pic: Huddersfield Daily Examiner).

The woman who was the subject of the dishonest report is Vanessa Haley, who lives in Huddersfield, England. Her written evidence to the court said the assessor had tried to “impede her entitlement” to PIP by This affected the rate of the daily living component Ms Haley was given and led to denial of mobility support.

The county court awarded Haley £5,000 when Atos failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages. She had alleged maladministration and that it was responsible for causing her health conditions to worsen.

Atos has since explained why it did not defend the legal action. A spokesman said: “We were made aware this week of this judgment. Our initial internal investigation indicates that we did not receive the claim form at our registered office. Until this investigation is complete we must reserve our position.”

Ah, so that’s why no defence was offered. It was not the company’s fault at all. No, it was all down to the postal service. Believe that? No? Nor do I.

Atos made to pay

Speaking after the case, Ms Haley said: “I didn’t do it for the money. I wanted and still do want this diabolical treatment of the sick and disabled to be exposed and stopped.

“It is exhausting constantly being worn down by the machine that is the Department for Work and Pensions and the PIP system. It is rarely absent from my thoughts, and as a result my anxiety is through the roof.”

She told the Disability News Service she was “angry” that she and other disabled people were being “dismissed and lied about”, because “through no fault of our own we have found ourselves in unfortunate and reduced circumstances.

“We are constantly being lied about, repressed and vilified. Many disabled people have become even further isolated by this system and have lost much, if not all of their care,” she said.

This ruling goes beyond what many people have been saying, that assessments are unfair. Now, one assessment  has been labelled ‘dishonest’. And, if one is, you can bet this is not an isolated case; there will be others that are just as dishonest.

Is it too much to expect the DWP to take control of its contractors and to ensure honest assessments? It shouldn’t be but, yes, much too much to expect of this government or its ministries.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is intended for your general knowledge only and is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues and consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

 

 

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Cut price defences – so government department doesn’t fear appeals

Many people believe it would cost the government less to pay disability benefits from the beginning, rather than face appeals.

The benefits, Employment and Support Allowance, and Personal Independence Payment, are claimed by people with disabilities. These include those of us with disabilities resulting from diseases such as MS, or other causes.

I was one of the many who thought the appeals were expensive. Now, though, figures found in the back of a new department for work and pensions (DWP) document show a different story. 

Indeed, it seems the UK’s DWP can make a ‘mandatory reconsideration’ decision for less than £40. Further, appeals can be handled for under £100 each.

For that sort of money, you have to ask how much commitment the department is devoting to reconsiderations and appeals. In short, not enough time for the decision-maker to give any real attention to each case.

appealsCampaigner and claimant-helping website workandbenefits.co.uk agrees. It says: “More likely, it’s enough for a very quick flick through the papers, maybe a phone call and then cutting and pasting some standard phrases refusing to change the decision.

“And for an appeal, which might run to over 100 pages of documents, £100 isn’t going to pay for more than the time needed to collate the paperwork and send it to the Tribunals Service.”

That’s ridiculous, but it is cheap! And that’s why the DWP does it.

appeals

Sir Ernest Ryder (pic: judiciary.gov.uk).

It doesn’t care that it’s defence of decisions, at appeals, have been rubbished by a top tribunal judge. Sir Ernest Ryder, senior president of tribunals, says most of the benefits cases that it hears are based on bad decisions where the department has no case at all.

Tribunal appeals: DWP defences poor

He told barristers, at a meeting of the Bar Council, that the quality of evidence provided by the DWP is so poor it would be “wholly inadmissible” in any other court.

Ryder also said tribunal judges found that 60% of cases were “no-brainers” where there was nothing in the law or facts that would make the DWP win.

He added that he and his fellow judges were so incensed by the volume of such cases that they were considering sending them back. Either that, or charging the DWP for the cases it loses.

However, the new figures do point out the DWP’s logic.

Step one: the DWP refuses benefits to many thousands of people who should receive them.

Step two: the DWP makes all those who challenge the decision go through the dispiriting reconsideration process.

The DWP knows that most claimants will give up as soon as they realise that their mandatory reconsiderations have failed. Others will drop out during the appeal process itself and never reach a tribunal.

Of course, some do stay the course and do have a tribunal hearing, leading to:

Step three: the DWP resists the appeal but, in most cases, is unable to defend a clearly unjust decision.

The sad truth is that the DWP saves so much money through incorrect and unfair decisions that it can well afford the tribunal losses. Perhaps, Sir Ernest is right – the DWP should be made to pay, financially.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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New government figures reveal a third of new applicants with MS are refused key disability benefit

One-third of people with MS are turned down when they first apply for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), a key disability benefit, the government has admitted.

The MS Society discovered the facts by questioning the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). The department told the society that, in the four years since PIP started, 31% (4,100) of new claims from people with MS were found to be not eligible. And, worryingly, a further 6% (1,100), who initially qualified for PIP, were later turned down following reassessment.

turned downThe figures only include at new claims for PIP made since 2013. People being reassessed from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to PIP are not involved.

It comes as no surprise, however, that appeals against being turned down for PIP have a high rate of success. Indeed, independent appeal tribunals decide that 65% of appellants should be awarded the benefit.  

These government figures clearly show the PIP assessment process is fundamentally flawed.  

MS Society chief executive Michelle Mitchell said: “It’s insulting that so many people who are diagnosed with a long-term condition are being told they don’t qualify for support.

Turned down: PIP hurting people

“These latest figures show PIP isn’t just hurting those who’ve been moved across from the old system (DLA), but also new people who are trying to get support for the first time.

social care“PIP is meant to help manage the extra costs of living with a disability and assist people to be more independent. But it’s a tougher system than DLA, with much stricter rules. In too many cases, assessments fail to reflect the barriers people with MS face.”

It’s high time that the government reviewed PIP. It is imperative that assessments reflect the reality of living with MS as well as other disabling illnesses and conditions. Disabled people being turned down is not right.

The MS Society wants to see these changes:

  • Assessments for people with MS being done by assessors who have professional experience of neurological and fluctuating conditions and adequate training.
  • An evaluation of how PIP rules take into account hidden symptoms like pain, fatigue and cognitive problems.
  • Improvements in processes around providing medical evidence.

This would be a start but any review needs to go much further. It needs to address every concern, every shortcoming. What’s the chance of that? With the present government, I’d say somewhere between slim and none.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Assessments for disability benefits cause ‘terrifying insecurity’

A pressure group has warned that the government’s disability benefit assessments are the cause of “terrifying insecurity”. What’s more, it says assessments are driving disabled women to destitution, and even “hastening their deaths”.

The warning was given by WinVisible, a group for women with disabilities, of all backgrounds, ages, and situations. It came when the group submitted evidence to the UK’s House of Commons work and pensions select committee. The committee is looking into assessments for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) assessments. Both benefits are claimed by people who are sick or have disabilities, many with MS.

assessmentsThe campaigning group said both ESA and PIP assessments cause terrifying insecurity. WinVisible told MPs that the insecurity leads to “suicides or admissions to NHS psychiatric institutions”.

Government benefit cuts, and how they are implemented, cause enormous suffering, destitution, and hasten deaths of sick and disabled people, says WinVisible.

The group provided the committee with examples of disabled women whose PIP or ESA claims have been disallowed because they missed face-to-face assessments.

One woman lost her ESA entitlement because she was unable to run to catch a bus, due to a long-term health condition. As a result, he missed her assessment. Her entitlement was disallowed even though she had rung the centre to tell them she would be 10 minutes late.

Face-to-face assessments distress

Another woman, a mental health service-user and child abuse survivor, was placed in the ESA work-related activity group after she was assessed, and was pressured to apply for jobs. Once, when she arrived at a meeting in tears, an adviser for Maximus apparently told her: “You can choose to be a victim or you can go and get a job.”

After intervention by both WinVisible and the woman’s MP, contractor Maximus apologised and the DWP agreed to place the her in the ESA support group. People in the support group are not required to look for work.

A third woman lost benefits for several weeks because she cancelled a face-to-face assessment to attend an urgent medical appointment.

WinVisible told the committee that one woman said: “The hoop jumping, form filling and getting support to get benefits, and keep them, has pushed me to the end of sanity and destroyed my faith in the powers that be.

“I have been made to feel like a criminal and guilty before being charged.”

It’s good that the select committee is holding an inquiry into the assessment system. It’s high time something was done, but I don’t think anything good to come from it. Even if the select committee calls for the system to be changed, don’t expect the government to listen.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Disability benefit: Government finally succumbs to judges’ decision

A government benefits agency, faced with a legal defeat seven months ago, has at last backtracked. It has finally decided to abide by the judges’ ruling. It is now to change how it makes decisions about a key disability benefit.

disability benefitThe UK`s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)has backed down over the way it looks at claimants of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP). These include people with MS and other diseases, as well as those with other disabilities.

Even last week, the DWP was refusing to bow to the inevitable. It was sticking to its argument that PIP disability benefit claimants could only score points for being unsafe if harm was likely to occur on more than 50% of the occasions on which they attempted an activity.

That was despite the fact that, back in March, a panel of upper tribunal judges made a ruling. They said that DWP decision makers should look at whether there is a real possibility that harm might occur and also at how great the harm might be. The greater the potential harm, the less likely it needs to be that it would happen on any specific occasion, the judges said.

So, why has the DWP taken seven months to follow the legal decision and update its guidance? It’s ridiculous.

Rule change could affect 10,000 disability benefit claimants

The DWP says that an extra 10,000 claimants will benefit by £70 – £90 a month because of the change.

Penny Mordaunt, then minister for disabled people spoke in the House Commons earlier this month. She said: “In the case of existing claimants the Department for Work and Pensions will undertake an exercise to go through all existing cases and identify anyone who may be entitled to more. We will then write to those people affected and all payments will be backdated to the date of the change in case law.”

The DWP claims it is searching for thousands of claimants who have lost out because of the delay.

However, can you believe that the DWP will identify everyone who should receive a higher award, or any award at all if they so far get nothing. I certainly don’t believe it. Furthermore, I don’t trust the DWP to so what it says.

Therefore, if you think you were affected, I recommend that you get advice, You need to see if your disability benefit case can be looked at again. This is particularly important because the DWP may be focusing on claimants with epilepsy.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Assessment complaints for disability benefit up nearly 900% in a year

Complaints about assessments for a key government disability benefit have rocketed by 880% in 12 months, according to official figures. It is a benefit paid to people with diseases like multiple sclerosis and those with other disabilities.

Yes, claimants’ complaints about assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP), that totalled 142 in 2015-16, rose to 1,391 in 2016-17.

assessments

Photo: The Independent

Furthermore, if that was not shocking enough, it gets worse. The UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has produced figures that show that the number of complaints about PIP assessments that were upheld. Over the same time, these rose from 67 to 545 – an increase of more than 713%. To me, that is a sad commentary on the lack of quality of the assessments and honesty of the assessors.

The facts were revealed by Penny Mordaunt, minister for disabled people, in answer to a parliamentary question from Stephen Kinnock.

assevssmentsBenefitsandwork.com, the campaigning website, commented: “In our last newsletter we highlighted the case of a PIP claimant who had used a secret recording of his PIP assessment to win his appeal tribunal.

“Given this level of doubt about the trustworthiness of assessments, and given the difficulties the DWP place in the way of claimants wanting to openly record their medicals, covert recording seems more and more reasonable.”

Not fit for purpose

According to Disability News Service, Kinnock claimed the figures were “further evidence that the PIP system is not fit for purpose”, despite the assessment system being in place for more than four years. He said:

assessments

Stephen Kinnock MP.

“While the scale of this is truly shocking, it is not in the least bit surprising, because week after week I hear from my constituents about how claimants are treated, how they are humiliated, belittled and denied basic human dignity.

“Government has been told by MPs, claimants and by disability experts that the system needs reviewing.  

“Instead, they have carried on regardless with their ideological drive to remove the help which people so desperately need, so that they are able to manage the basic daily costs of living with a disability.” 

A spokesman for the DWP is reported to have been unable to offer any explanation for the huge rise in complaints. He commented: “Complaints may be made for a variety of reasons and there is no evidence to suggest that there is dishonesty in the assessment system.”

Yeah, right!

Assessments appeals going online

PIP assessments appeals, and those about other benefits, are set to change. This is because HM Court and Tribunals Service (HMCTS) has reached stage two of the roll out of online hearings.

It says that virtual hearings and online hearings using ‘rapid messaging’ will become a reality over the next 18 months. Apparently, it will be possible to appeal online and track the progress of the case by text, email or online.

Many are likely to welcome the chance not to have to attend a face-to-face hearing. However, paper hearings have a very much lower success rate than in-person hearings. Claimants may well seek physical hearings, if the same low success rate applies to ‘rapid messaging’ hearings. 

HMCTS says in-person hearings will still be available “for those that need them”. My question is: Who will decide if a claimant is in ‘need’ of one? It should not be the DWP.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

 

 

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Good news about WCAs and Scotland BUT Universal Credit to roll out faster

As dust settles following UK prime minister Theresa May’s farcical conference speech, there’s mixed news for people claiming disability benefits. This includes people with MS and other diseases that cause disability.

disability

Theresa May’s distress call at party conference (Pic: Daily Star).

Good news is some Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) recipients will no longer face repeated work capability assessments (WCAs).   

I say ‘some’ as this is only a limited concession. It affects claimants in the ESA support group or any with limited capability for work-related activity for Universal Credit (UC).

There are two further conditions to qualify for exemption from repeat WCAs. Firstly, claimants need to have a severe, lifelong disability, illness, or health condition. Secondly, they must be unlikely to ever be able to move into work.

Department for Work and Pensions secretary David Gauke said this week: “After early tests of this approach, it has now been implemented and I can tell you that around twice as many people are expected to benefit from this reform than were originally thought.”

The government has devolved, to the Scottish parliament at Holyrood, control of some benefits paid to people living in Scotland. These benefits include Personal Independence Payment (PIP), Disabled Living Allowance (DLA), and Carer’s Allowance.

Holyrood has decided that Scottish people should get a better deal than anyone elsewhere in the UK.

Disability benefit changes for the Scots

It has decided that, in Scotland:

  • Benefits will rise annually by at least the rate of inflation.
  • Private companies will no longer be allowed to carry out assessments for disability benefits such as PIP, DLA, and Attendance Allowance.
  • Any child in receipt of DLA will be given an automatic award of that DLA to age 18, to allow for continuity for families.
  • Mandatory reconsiderations of claim denials will have to take place within a set time limit or claimants will be able to take their case to a tribunal without needing to wait any longer.

Perhaps, other parts of the UK will follow suit in due course. We can only live in hope – certainly not in expectation.

On the downside, the government has decided to continue to roll out the highly criticized Universal Credit. However, it is now doing so 10 times faster than originally planned. Now, 50 areas a month will transfer to the new benefit, instead of just 5.

Compassionate? DWP secretary David Gauke (Picture: South West Herts Conservatives Association).

The government decided to proceed despite warnings of ‘disaster’ and a ‘human and political catastrophe’ from the Citizens’ Advice Bureau and politicians from all parties, including 12 Conservative MPs

What seems perverse to me is that this government takes pride iin the harshness with which it treats claimants, while always claiming to be compassionate.

In his speech, Gauke also spoke of the government’s vision. He said: “It is a vision of the welfare state that is compassionate, practical and aspirational. It is, in short, a Conservative vision for a modern welfare state.”

Compassionate? No, just some sick joke.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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DWP fights to hide WCA ‘under-performance’ and PIP assessments

I suppose, by now, that the ineptitude of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should not surprise me. And while that is true, what does amaze me is its ability to keep proving it – over and over again.

Right now, besides all its usual carryings on, the department is fighting two similar but separate battles. It is trying its best, or maybe its worst, to hide information from the public. Information that we have a right to know.

hide

Photo: The Independent

First, the DWP is trying to hide from public scrutiny a report showing how well assessment company Maximus is doing. The company carries out the controversial, and widely despised, work capability assessment (WCA) for the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). It also includes a look at Atos’s record as far back as 2011.

The Information Commissioner has already ordered the release of a copy of the report, which would give a breakdown of Maximus’s performance at each assessment centre. The DWP, however, is refusing to publish it and is now taking the case to an information tribunal.

Under-performance could damage reputations

The DWP claims that the information could “give a perception of under-performance’ which could ‘damage the reputation and standing of the companies involved”.

Duh, that’s the point. We all know the WCAs are a mess, this report would go towards proving just how bad it is. And the DWP as good as admits that the report could damage the standing of both Maximus and Atos.

The government ministry is therefore claiming that the report is exempt from disclosure because publishing it could damage the commercial interests of both Maximus and Atos, as well as the DWP itself.

Its second fight is to hide differences between Atos and Capita assessments, this time for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP),

This time the DWP is refusing to release training materials which would potentially highlight difference between the way that Atos and Capita carry out PIP assessments, according to Benefits and Work (B&W).

DWP refuses Freedom of Information request to hide facts

hideBack in June, Benefits and Work made a Freedom of Information Act request for training and guidance materials issued by Atos to staff carrying out PIP assessments. Detailed guidance covers issues such as the way in which requests for the recording of PIP assessments are dealt with.

However, the DWP refused to release the guidance on the grounds that it was commercially confidential.

The campaigning website asked the DWP to reconsider its decision. B&W says these are not commercially confidential matters and there is a strong public interest in how PIP is administered on a day-to-day basis.

It says: “If there is a difference in how PIP is managed by different companies, then this is also a strong matter of public interest. Claimants ought to be able to be sure that their assessment is a standardised one and not one based on which company carries it out.”

The DWP, however, is having none of it. Once again, it continues to hide the documents because it considers them to be commercially confidential.

DWP says “commercially confidential” tag exempts it from FoI

The DWP said: “Release of this information would reveal to their competitors commercially sensitive information which would disadvantage IAS’s (Independent Assessment Service, the name that Atos now uses) competitive position in the marketplace.

“This in turn would prejudice the ability of the department to secure best value for the taxpayer when the contract is re-tendered. Release of this type of key financial information would also undermine the effectiveness of the department’s future dealings with IAS or other service providers.”

A B&W spokesman said: “The DWP now routinely refuses a large proportion of freedom of information requests on the grounds of commercial confidentiality. It does this without attempting to justify in any way how anyone’s interests would be threatened.

“Benefits and Work is now applying to the Information Commissioner to have the documents disclosed.”

I receive both ESA and DLA, because of disability caused by MS. As such, I cannot allow horrendous cover-ups like these to go unchallenged – and I urge you to do the same. Public interest and freedom of information must triumph over so-called ‘commercial confidentiality’.

That is just a smokescreen behind which the DWP is using to hide the facts…the facts we need and deserve to see.

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Affiliate disclaimer: This affiliate disclosure details the affiliate relationships of MS, Health & Disability at 50shadesofsun.com with other companies and products. Read more.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Government figures prove UN’s human catastrophe verdict

Shocking new figures underline the facts behind a UN committee’s decision to describe UK welfare benefits as a human catastrophe.

And the figures come from the government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Not that they were provided willingly. The MS Society forced them out by a freedom of information request.

During the first three years of Personal Independence Payment (PIP), people with MS have lost at least £6 million a year in benefits, according to the society. PIP started to replace Disability Living Allowance (DLA) in 2013.

The Department for Work and Pensions admitted that between October 2013 and October 2016:

  • almost one in three people (2,600) with MS who received the highest rate mobility component of DLA had their payments cut after they were reassessed for PIP.
  • nearly a quarter (800) who received the highest rate for the care component of DLA had their payments cut after being reassessed for PIP.

System doesn’t make sense

reassessed

Genevieve Edwards (pic: MS Society).

MS Society director of external affairs, Genevieve Edwards, said: “These staggering figures show how PIP is failing some 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.” I agree, the disease gets worse progressively, not better.

The society is rightly worried that many people no longer get what they were entitled to, and should still be able to claim. Their individual situations are no better but their care benefits have been cut.

One problem is when people are unable to explain the reality of living with MS when reassessed for PIP. And assessors, who are of dubious quality, rarely understand how unpredictable it can be.

Harder to get highest rate mobility under PIP

Additionally, it’s now also harder to qualify for the highest rate of mobility support for PIP. And that’s what you need to take advantage of the Motability car scheme.

Before the changes, under the DLA claimants wouldn’t receive the highest level of support if they could walk more than 50m. Now, under PIP, they won’t get the higher rate if they can walk more than 20m – including the use of sticks or walking aids, if needed.

Exactly what the basis of that change is, I just don’t know but it is unfair. Interestingly, on May 4 last year Baroness Altmann, then minister of state at the DWP, said in the House of Lords: “I would like to clarify what appears to be a widespread misconception regarding the differences between the mobility assessment in PIP and the mobility assessment in DLA. (See my post of May 16, 2016, Disability: There is no 20-metre rule, says minister).

“Many noble Lords have spoken of a ‘20-metre rule’, but there is no such rule. Some people believe that we have changed the assessment of a distance a claimant is able to walk from 50 metres to 20 metres. This is not the case.”

What a load of absolute codswallop.

  • Have the requirements changed between being assessed for DLA and being reassessed for PIP? YES.
  • Is the cut off for highest rate mobility payment now being unable to walk 20m instead of 50m? YES.
  • Did Baroness Altmann lie? Well by archaic tradition, she cannot be accused of lying as she made the statement in the House. She can only be guilty of “misleading the House”. It is clear, she did mislead the House.

Now, what is a non-parliamentary term for deliberately misleading the House? Let me think. Oh yes, I remember, it is LYING.

Fix this broken system, MS Society demands

The MS Society is calling on the government to urgently fix “this broken system” and ensure PIP assessments reflect the realities of living with MS. I couldn’t agree more.

“Having MS is hard enough. It shouldn’t be made harder by a system that doesn’t make sense,” said Ms Edwards.

And so say all of us. 

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a Clinical Writer with Healthline, the fastest growing health information site. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

 

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