Who’d have thought it? People with disabilities have a pervasive lack of trust in the method of assessing welfare benefit claims, say MPs.
Assessments produced by companies were ‘riddled with errors and omissions’, says the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. Those companies are contractors Atos, Capita, and Maximus.
That’s just what campaigners and commentators have said, over and over again. We don’t trust them.
A stark figure considered by the committee is that, since 2013, 290,000 rejected claims for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) have been granted on appeal.
The cross-party committee noted that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent hundreds of millions defending decisions. Decisions which had been made on the basis of reports by private contractors.
In its report PIP and ESA Assessments, the committee said quality targets set for the companies had been ‘universally missed’. Further, it recommended that ministers should consider taking the process back in-house and not renew contracts in 2019 and 2020.
The committee says it received an ‘unprecedented’ number of responses from PIP and ESA claimants. Nearly 4,000 people gave ‘shocking and moving, credible and consistent’ accounts of the failings of the system.
No trust in assessors
Surprise, surprise! The recurrent complaint was that they did not trust the companies’ non-specialist assessors to note evidence of their conditions accurately.
Other findings included:
· Assessors were viewed as ‘at best lacking in competence and at worst actively deceitful’, while many claimants reported experiencing ‘a great deal of anxiety and other deleterious health impacts’.
· One claimant was said in her assessment report to walk her dog, despite not owning one and being barely able to walk at all.
· Another, who remained in bed throughout her interview at home, was reported to have risen from a chair ‘without any difficulty’ even though the only chair in the room was the one the assessor was sitting in.
Committee chairman Frank Field said system shortcomings cause “untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse”.
He said: “No-one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.”
The report says face-to-face assessments should be recorded, and a copy sent to the claimant along with the assessor’s report. Claimants should not just receive notification of the DWP’s decision which they currently receive.
Mr Field said it “beggars belief” that assessments are not already routinely recorded. It was “bewildering” that the DWP had resisted this step.
He added: “The current contracts have not made the system fairer, have not made it more transparent and have not made it more efficient. The existing contractors have consistently failed to meet basic performance standards. The Government should be prepared to take assessments in-house.”
Whether a more fundamental overhaul of welfare support for disabled people is required “remains open”, the committee said.
Respect and dignity
A DWP spokesman said: “As the Work and Pensions Select Committee highlights, assessments work for the majority of people.
“However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.”
The spokesman said DWP had already accepted more than 100 recommendations from five independent reviews of the Work Capability Assessment and commissioned two independent reviews of PIP assessments.
All three assessment companies agreed to comment.
A Capita spokesman said: “We remain firmly committed to delivering a high-quality service for people applying for PIP, and fully recognise the importance and sensitivity of our role in providing assessments. All of our qualified healthcare professionals are fully trained and are dedicated to delivering professional and empathetic assessments for all claimants.”
A spokesman for the Maximus-operated Centre for Health and Disability Assessments said: “Since we took over the contract in March 2015, we have set out to improve the experience at every stage for those attending assessments.
“We have delivered year-on-year improvements across the service, hiring more medical professionals, halving the time people spend in the assessment process and hitting the large majority of quality targets.
“In January 2018, we achieved all of our quality standards. We take the findings of this report very seriously and remain fully committed to making further improvements.”
A spokesman for Independent Assessment Services – formerly known as Atos Healthcare – said: “We are extremely conscious of the important role we perform within the claimant process, which is why our focus has consistently been on providing a professional and compassionate assessment service.
“We have also looked at continually improving by listening to claimant feedback, which has led to a number of improvements.”
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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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