Benefits department accused of deliberately misleading select committee and GPs

Shock? Horror? No, not really. A government department is misleading people, including an official committee and doctors.

No surprise there, as far as I am concerned, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions has a hit and miss attitude to honesty. It may not ‘lie’ but is certainly happy to ‘mislead’.

Again and again, the DWP has defended criticism of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment systems. That’s fine, it is entitled to do that, as long as it does so truthfully and honestly. But it is misleading to claim that more than 90% of claimants are happy with their experience.

misleading

Photo: The Independent

This claim even deceived the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. While the committee criticised PIP assessments, its members were taken in by the DWP’s figures. The committee said it accepted that ‘The PIP and ESA assessment processes function satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’.

Now, though, the campaigning organisation Benefits and Work has revealed that PIP feedback is based on around 1% of claimants being asked just one single question: “How satisfied were you with your overall experience with Capita / Independent Assessment Service’.”

On its website, it says: “In most cases the claimant is phoned by a Capita or Atos (IAS) employee and asked this question. Occasionally they are written to instead.”

This way of gathering customer feedback is flawed. Those asked for their opinion know that it is not given anonymously. Additionally, they could feel that a critical response may affect assessments of their claims.

No questions asked about accuracy

misleadingWhile a question is asked their ‘overall experience’, there are no questions about the accuracy of the assessment report or whether any additional evidence was considered. I find that strange, if not downright peculiar, because those are the areas about which most claimants’ criticisms are levelled.

Not content with misleading a parliamentary committee, the DWP is misleading general practitioners (GPs) into not issuing sick notes to ESA claimants appealing a decision.

Benefits and Work says:

Claimants who challenge a fit for work decision cannot claim ESA during the mandatory reconsideration stage. They may be able to claim JSA, but many claimants don’t for fear of sanctions.

However, if the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful, claimants can then lodge an appeal and reclaim ESA whilst waiting for their case to be heard.

But the DWP has changed the letters that it sends out to GPs when a claimant is found fit for work. The letters tell the GP not to issue any more sick notes and no longer say they can do so if the claimant appeals the decision.

The result, as legal advice charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust discovered, is claimants going hungry because they have no money for food. Claimants may also have to change to a new GP practice to try to find a doctor who will issue them with a sick note.

The DWP has offered no explanation whatsoever for the change in the wording of the letter, except that it was altered as a result of a ‘ministerial requirement’.

That it is a ministerial requirement that claimants be caused as much suffering as possible, regardless of the law, will probably come as no surprise to our readers.

I must say, I agree. How can any government department set out to deliberately mislead and ultimately deceive? It is disgusting and needs to stop now.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It 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. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Disability benefit decisions continue to use unlawful criteria

It is almost unbelievable, but it seems to be true. The people running the government department responsible for disability welfare benefits appear to have confirmed that they are either stupid, irresponsible, incapable, or all three.

As if all the mess with disability benefit claims, notably Personal Independence Payment (PIP), has not been enough – it is getting worse. Welfare campaigners Benefits and Work says the UK’s Department for Work and Pensions is:

  • advising claimants who were refused PIP before November 28 2016 to consider claiming again if they experience overwhelming psychological distress in relation to planning and following journeys, BUT
  • admits that it will turn them down again and that its decision will be based on criteria that (have) already been declared unlawful.

assessmentsOn its website, Benefits and Works’ Steve Donnison continues:

The DWP have also admitted that they are still making unlawful decisions on new claims and refusing PIP mobility to people who are entitled to it.

Their excuse is that they have not yet had the time to update guidance to health professionals and decision makers in relation to PIP mobility and psychological distress.

This follows the DWP’s decision in January to drop their appeal against (the court ruling), in which a judge held that changes to PIP mobility law made by the DWP were unlawful.

Updated guidance is expected to be available in the summer.

The DWP will then begin going through 1.6 million PIP claims, looking for all the wrong decisions they have made, and are still making, and put them right . . . sometimes we are genuinely just lost for words.

New: ‘Drive-by’ PIP assessments

I could not agree more, but it seems that the much renowned PIP claims assessors, contracted to the DWP, have come up with another wheeze. Here is Donnison again:

It’s too soon to say how widespread the issue is.

But there are a worrying number of reports, from Benefits and Work members and elsewhere, of claimants losing their benefits because a PIP assessor claims they were not at home when the assessor called.

In each case the assessor is able to describe the appearance of the house, such as the colour of doors and windowsills, and this is taken as sufficient evidence that the assessor called.

In one case The Independent newspaper contacted Capita and it was suddenly decided that the assessor had indeed called, but at the wrong time. So, another assessment was arranged.

In two cases involving Benefits and Work members CCTV evidence appears to have supported the claimants’ assertion that no-one had come knocking at the door.

These may be isolated incidents based on genuine misunderstandings and mix-ups about times or addresses. Or they may be evidence of something more disturbing: assessors under time pressure doing a drive-by of a claimant’s home and then claiming to have called.

We don’t, as yet, know the accuracy of this ‘drive-by’ allegation but it would come as no surprise to me if it is proved to true.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It 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. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

Have benefits assessors intimidated claimants? Tell your story

Questions are being asked about the behaviour of private sector assessors, following an allegation of intimidation. The suggestion is that a claimant was scared into giving positive feedback after a face-to-face assessment. And, if there was one, how likely is it that there are more?

This casts doubt on the honesty of statistics presented to the House of Commons Select Committee on work and pensions. The committee was conducting an inquiry into Personal Independent Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments.

These statistics were presented by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). They purport to show that Atos, Capita and Maximus “consistently exceed” their customer satisfaction targets of 90% for PIP and 91% for ESA.

MPs on the committee have been very scathing of PIP and ESA assessments but believe the system functions ‘satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’. This belief is based on those statistics.

Appeal for evidence

assevssmentsNow, though, the member-based campaigning organization Benefits and Work is set to investigate the situation.

On its website, benefitsandwork.co.uk, it highlighted the issue. It said:

One member contacted us to describe how they had been asked to complete a feedback form by the face-to-face assessor in a way that we can only describe as intimidatory:

“She leaned over the front of my buggy so that she could see what I was writing and my signature. She hadn’t yet processed my report so I was a very good girl and gave the nice lady the top score!”

Benefits and Work would very much like to know whether you were asked for feedback after your PIP or ESA assessment – we suspect most people aren’t.

And, if you were, was it done in such a way that you were fearful that your assessor might exact revenge if you wrote anything critical?

Select Committee

In its report, the select committee had stated:

People tend only to make representations about their experiences to MPs or select committees when they are in difficulty or have had a poor experience with a public service. It is therefore unsurprising that the vast majority of submissions we received were critical of the assessment process. We did, however, receive a few positive responses:

  • I was very pleased with the service I received. The process was a lot quicker than I thought it would be, which pleasantly surprised me. I was more than happy with the assessor, she was to the point but did what she needed to do. I don’t have any complaints. Beckey
  • I thought my PIP assessment was carried out sensitively, with proper appreciation of my circumstances. I was happy with the result. Everyone I dealt with, both by telephone and at the assessment centre, was aware of how frightening the process could be and did all they could to counter that. I was very happy with the way I was treated and thought the process was properly fair and objective. Nick
  • I was rather nervous when I had to apply for PIP. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the assessment would take place at my house. My assessor had worked in neurological healthcare and understood my condition. He was very easy to talk to and spent four hours interviewing me. When I received the result, I was very pleased to see that I would be able to retain my Motability car. Until I saw the letter I hadn’t realised how worried I’d been – I felt an enormous weight lift from my shoulders, and burst into tears of relief. Name withheld

Explanation needed – if allegation true

I await the outcome pf the Benefits and Work investigation with considerable interest. If a large number of claimants report being intimidated into giving positive feedback, the assessment companies must explain.

Clearly, such intimidation is just not good enough. We deserve better.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.

* * * * *

Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It 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. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.

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.

* * * * *

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

* * * * *

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.