By John Pring Disability News Service 3rd August 2017
The government and its private sector contractors are refusing to investigate claims of widespread dishonesty in the benefits assessment industry, despite Disability News Service (DNS) collecting more than 200 such cases.
The cases have been compiled during a DNS investigation into allegations that healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giants Capita and Atos have been lying in personal independence payment (PIP) assessment reports they have written for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Eight months after the investigation began, DNS now has a database of more than 200 cases in which disabled people have described – in varying levels of detail – how assessors lied in their written reports.
But this week, DWP, Atos and Capita all refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty.
In one of the latest cases passed to DNS, a woman disabled as a result of stage three breast cancer has described how she requested a copy of her assessment report after she was told that she had been turned down for PIP and had been awarded zero points (a claimant needs eight points for the PIP standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate).
She said she was “utterly shocked” when she read the report because it was “full of complete lies”, including the assessor stating that her daughter takes her shopping every week, when she lives in Northern Ireland and her daughter has lived in England for the last 16 years.
Another claimant said of her PIP assessor: “She lied 11 times on the report despite my sending in a large amount of letters/documents outlining my conditions and support from specialists.
“She asked my carer questions, too, and wrote the opposite of most of the things we told her.”
A third claimant, who stayed in his wheelchair throughout his PIP assessment, was said by his assessor to have got up from the wheelchair and walked about.
He said the report was “just a pack of lies”, and included “results for tests not done” and “test results falsely reported”. He said he planned to report the nurse assessor to the Nursing and Midwifery Council (NMC).
Another claimant described how her nurse assessor stopped the PIP assessment halfway through, as she said she did not want to cause her any pain or discomfort.
She said: “She never ever asked was I in pain. When I received her report through the DWP, she lied through her teeth from beginning to end. She said that I stopped the assessment. I got 0 points.
“I have osteoarthritis, and have had one hip replaced, I have osteoporosis in my lower back, I have severe bladder problems, and need a pad on 24/7.
“I also told her that I have a growth on my liver, but she failed to mention this at all.”
A fourth claimant has told DNS: “Having produced the most incredible work of fiction since Harry Potter, my complaints to Atos have been all but brushed off like a flea on an elephant.
“While awaiting their ‘second level investigation’ and the outcome of my tribunal, I have now been prescribed anti-depressants and the trauma of it all has broken me.
“As a former healthcare professional of nearly 30 years, the thought that a fellow ‘professional’ could treat a human being in such a degrading way and lie through their teeth about them leaves me aghast.
“Even the NMC didn’t want to know, which I found shocking. The damage to my mental, physical and emotional wellbeing can’t be measured.”
DWP has confirmed again this week that it does not believe there is any dishonesty among its PIP assessors, and that it is not planning to launch an inquiry.
In a statement, a DWP spokeswoman said: “As we’ve previously made clear, assessment providers must adhere to strict quality standards regarding staff recruitment and training.
“They must demonstrate that their health professionals meet all of our requirements before they are approved to carry out assessments.
“All the health professionals are subject to on-going quality audits to ensure they continue to deliver high-quality assessments.
“Should they fall below our required standards, they are stopped from carrying out assessments.”
She said that Atos and Capita have their own complaints systems, which signpost complainants to the Independent Case Examiner if they remain dissatisfied with the final response.
Capita has also refused to order an inquiry into the claims.
A Capita spokeswoman said in a statement: “Our assessors are healthcare professionals who are committed to delivering high-quality and accurate reports throughout the Midlands, Wales and Northern Ireland in line with Department for Work and Pensions and [Northern Ireland] Department for Communities guidance.
“If someone is unhappy with the assessment service we have provided, they are welcome to contact us by phone, text phone, email or post so that we can look into their concern and understand what we are doing well as well as where we need to do things better.”
Atos has also refused to launch an investigation into the claims of widespread dishonesty by its assessors.
An Atos spokesman said: “We pride ourselves on providing a professional, compassionate and high-quality assessment service using the criteria as laid out by government and we will always investigate when and if complaints are made.
“Should any evidence be found of an assessment which does not meet our high standards then we will of course act promptly.”