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.

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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 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.

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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 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.

Disabilities: Official papers reveal failings of assessment contractors

Devastating papers, reluctantly released by the government under the Freedom of Information Act (FOI), reveal frightful failures of a key disability benefit. In particular, the papers show the shortcomings of outsourcing contractors hired to carry out assessments of applications.

That means that critics of personal independence payment (PIP), and the way it has been introduced, have been fully vindicated. And, in those critics I include myself-

The papers, popularly dubbed the ‘PIP files’, lift the lid on what has been going on. This includes:

  • up to 180 PIP assessors employed by Capita and Atos were the subject of at least four complaints each in three-month periods in 2016;
  • 161 assessors working for Atos had more than three complaints made against them in a three-month period;

Neither Atos nor Capita, or the DWP, will say what action (if any) was taken against these assessors. Similarly, they refuse to say whether those involved are still carrying out face-to-face assessments of disabled PIP claimants.

  • that Atos and Capita contacted health and social care professionals to ask for information far less often than the government estimated would be needed.

In fact, both outsourcing companies have failed to request vital evidence from GPs and social workers. Such evidence could help disabled people secure the benefits they are entitled to receive.

Further evidence

According documents prepared in May 2012, the DWP had expected contractors would need to ask for further evidence in about 50% of cases. But the latest papers show:

  • In June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims. That’s less than 2% of cases;
  • In June 2016, Capita sought further evidence for just 380 of the 21,554 PIP assessments it dealt with. Incredibly, just a little more than 1.75%.

The figures are contained in official reports, prepared by contractors Capita and Atos, for the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The PIP files were released under FOI to Drew Hendry of the Scottish Nationalist Party (SNP). He has been MP for Inverness, Nairn, Badenoch and Strathspey since the 2015 general election.

disability employmentAdditionally, a report by Disability News Service says:

Nearly one in three of the disability benefit assessment reports completed by a private sector contractor were significantly flawed, confidential Department for Work and Pensions documents suggest.

Unacceptable assessment reports

The figures were revealed through a government audit of personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports that had been written by staff working for under-fire outsourcing giant Capita in 2016.

The audit, which examined more than 4,000 of the 190,000 assessment reports completed by Capita from April to December 2016, found that about 7.5% of them were so poor as to be deemed “unacceptable”.

But with another 14% of assessments, DWP concluded that the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.

And in a further 12% of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws in the assessor’s report, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.

In all, nearly 33% of the Capita reports audited during 2016 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.

Shocking, right? Of course, but it is nothing that disability campaigners haven’t been saying about PIP assessments for a long time,

Sources:

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: DWP documents show ‘absolutely shocking’ failure on further evidence

Disability News Service: The PIP Files: Data shows multiple complaints made against scores of Atos assessors

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

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.

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.

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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.

Benefit assessor lied, say doctor and nurse

Assessors working on behalf of the UK government, to evaluate claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) continue to be the cause of endless complaints for their unacceptable behaviour. PIP is the welfare benefit paid to people with multiple sclerosis and other disabilities, and the behaviour of some assessors is well below the professional standards we have a right to expect.

disability-news-serviceA benefits assessor working for the outsourcing company Capita repeatedly “lied” in her report, after carrying out a face-to-face assessment of a disabled nurse which was observed by her husband, a retired GP – according to an article posted on the Disability News Service website.

The disabled woman and her husband have asked not to be named – so their claims have not been put to Capita or the Department for Work and Pensions – but they have provided proof to Disability News Service (DNS) that they are both on their respective professional registers.

They believe the behaviour of the Capita assessor, herself a registered nurse, makes her unfit to remain in her profession.

Although DNS has received a string of credible reports from disabled people who say their benefits assessors lied in reports written after face-to-face medical assessments, this account is particularly credible because the behaviour was witnessed by both a nurse and a doctor.

The woman, Mrs A, lodged a complaint with Capita even before she knew the result of the test because she and her husband were so appalled that last month’s assessment at their home in south Wales was so rushed, impersonal and poorly carried out, and ignored key questions.

Mrs A, who has significant support needs due to a series of medical conditions, had already had to fight to have her disability living allowance (DLA) restored after it was stopped by DWP when her PIP claim form was lost in the post, while “rude and confrontational” staff then refused to provide her with a replacement form.

The couple say the assessor made almost no eye contact during the PIP assessment, but spent most of the time typing on her laptop, while she continually interrupted Mrs A as she tried to explain the impact of her impairments on her daily life.

Worst fears confirmed

Mrs A said that when she and her husband saw the report the assessor had written, their “worst fears were confirmed”.

As a result of the report, Mrs A’s previous entitlement to the higher rates of both the mobility and care components of DLA were downgraded under PIP to the standard daily living rate and no entitlement at all to the mobility element.

She has now put in a second written complaint, this time about the content of the report and what they say are the assessor’s lies.

Both Mrs A and Dr A say they have a duty as healthcare professionals to expose the assessor’s actions.

Among their many concerns is that the report stated that there was no evidence that Mrs A was wearing hearing aids, when the briefest of checks would have shown they were in place behind her ears.

The report failed to mention her painfully swollen leg, and said that Mrs A refused to stand, when in fact the assessor had recognised she was in too much pain to stand and so did not ask her to do so.

Among many other concerns, the report failed to point out that Mrs A was clearly “distressed, in pain and anxious”, and failed to note the forgetfulness and slowness of thought she showed during the assessment.

Dr A said the report was “an absolute fabrication”.

He said: “The actual examination was laughable. It took a few moments.

“My wife couldn’t even stand up… yet somehow she was able to infer that she could walk more than 50 metres but less than 200.

“How do you infer that from someone who wasn’t even able to get up out of the chair?

“She said she couldn’t see the hearing aids. She didn’t even look to see if the hearing aids were in place. How difficult is it to move a couple of hairs?”

He added: “It was appalling. Every single sentence in that report can be torn apart.”

Mrs A, who is not able to do clinical nursing work because of her impairment, said she believed the assessor “had an agenda”.

She said: “I feel hurt that a nurse, who is also a colleague in a way, would behave in this manner.

“Nurses are supposed to act with integrity in all that we do. We know how important recording of information – truthfully – is.”

She added: “We feel the nurse is acting dishonestly.

“I cannot understand how if you are a nurse you wouldn’t act impartially. I don’t understand how you can be both a nurse and a PIP assessor.

“The public rely on the integrity, honesty and openness of nurses. As a nurse myself, this kind of behaviour has to stop.”

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Three disability assessors found wanting in attitude and conduct

Three nurses, all involved in assessing the seriousness of people’s disabilities, have been found to have breached professional ethics – all of which have been made public in quite a short period of time.

Just what is going on? People with disabilities deserve better.

First, a disability benefits assessor with extreme right-wing sympathies was suspended by UK government contractor Capita after she posted disablist, racist comments about social security claimants on her Facebook page.

The posts were spotted by Sarah Goldstein, whose claim for personal independence payment (PIP) had been turned down following an assessment carried out by the qualified nurse.

Goldstein has significant support needs as a result of fibromyalgia, Raynaud’s syndrome, chronic migraines, anxiety and depression, and she was so angry and upset by the “lies” she read in the nurse’s assessment report that she searched online for her social media accounts. She says she was appalled by what she found.

On one occasion, in July 2014, while apparently watching an episode of the Channel 5 reality show ‘Benefits Britain: Life On The Dole’, the unnamed nurse posted a series of comments about a Roma gypsy who used a skateboard as a mobility aid because he lost his legs as a child in Romania.

On social media, the nurse commented: “I’d like to remove his wheels and catapult the scrounger back to whatever shit hole he came from!!!!”

Ms Goldstein’s disability has since been reassessed by a different assessor.

NMC_logoSince then, two other nurses have been found guilty of misconduct while employed as assessors by contractors working for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP). They were both struck off by the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).

Heather Margaret MacBean was found guilty of misconduct by being drunk at work on June 27, 2013, although the Disability News Service reports that it is believed that she was drunk at work on other occasions.

A former health visitor and midwife, MacBean could have carried out hundreds of work capability assessments (WCAs), and it is believed that she also conducted disability living allowance (DLA) assessments.

The second nurse, Amelia Victoria Bailey pretended she had conducted personal independence payment (PIP) assessments for the government contractor Atos.

The company and the DWP have since had to review every one of the assessments Bailey carried out between August and November 2014.

You just have to wonder if these three are just the tip of the iceberg. What revelations may be revealed in the future?

 

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