By John Pring Disability News Service 2nd November 2017
Scores of disabled people and welfare advisers have told a Commons inquiry that disability benefit assessment reports completed on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions are filled with “lies and misinformation”.
The work and pensions select committee is carrying out an inquiry into the assessment process for both personal independence payment (PIP) and employment and support allowance (ESA).
By last night (Wednesday), more than 1,800 people had submitted evidence to the inquiry via an online forum, which closes on 10 November, although not all the posts were about dishonesty and many were about the work capability assessment, the eligibility test for ESA.
The forum posts provide further corroboration for the evidence compiled by Disability News Service (DNS) during a year-long investigation into claims of dishonesty at the heart of the PIP assessment system.
Only last week, DNS revealed that complaints about the PIP assessment process rose by nearly 900 per cent last year – from 142 in 2015-16 to 1,391 in 2016-17.
Labour’s shadow work and pensions secretary, Debbie Abrahams, said last week that the “huge increase” showed that the healthcare professionals who carry out the assessments must be held to account.
Post after post on the forum describes how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Atos and Capita lied in reports they prepared for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) following face-to-face assessments.
One PIP claimant, “Paul”, said the report produced after his face-to-face PIP assessment was “a complete fabrication”.
He said: “I was lucky in the fact that the person who accompanied me was also a healthcare professional and they made notes on the assessment.”
He added: “The full account of my assessment has been written up by my companion of the day in question and it supports my contention that the medical report is to all intents a pack of lies, an examination that is reported actually never happened.”
Despite attending the assessment in his wheelchair, the report described how he was seen “walking normally”.
“Andrew Pole” said in his post on the forum: “I never thought I would see the day when a doctor told blatant and calculated lies about a sick and disabled person for his own financial benefit and the benefit of both ATOS and the DWP. That’s what happened to me.”
He added: “It is my opinion that ATOS behaved in a criminal manner when handling my assessment and also committed perjury at my appeal by including lies and false evidence about me which was signed by the same disreputable doctor.
“I won my appeal and the impression that the presiding judge gave me, before even speaking to me and upon observing how I mobilised, was why on earth has this man been forced to enter into an appeal process.”
Pam Stock, a disabled, retired DWP employment adviser, described in her evidence to the inquiry how she helped two friends with spina bifida appeal against their PIP decisions, after both had had their mandatory reconsiderations rejected.
She said: “In both cases the reasoning given on the reconsideration request was rejected and yet as soon as it became clear to the DWP that these claimants intended to go to tribunal, the decision was further reviewed and suddenly they agreed the claimants were right.”
She added: “I am also very concerned that in both cases, crucial information discussed at the interview, did not appear on the subsequent assessment report, and also some elements were clearly misrepresented.
“One claimant said they almost failed to recognise themselves on the report.”
In her post on the forum, “Anne” said: “It states in the assessor’s report that I had no breathlessness or wheezing – I am doing both continually with me having emphysema/COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease].
“He even stopped the assessment about three or four times due to my breathing and asking if it was ok to carry on.”
“Abigail Efnisien-Roberts” said in her post that she had been “horrified” to find that the response provided by the assessor to every question in her report “was the total opposite of the discussion we had in the office”.
Her report described how she had been seen waiting for the assessment in the waiting-room and “standing in a queue without discomfort”, even though she is “unable to stand for more than a few seconds” and was not in a queue but was sat in a chair in an empty room.
One welfare rights expert, “Stephen”, said: “I help people fill in their applications and appeals for a charity. The assessments are full of lies.
“The government have ignored the effect this has on people’s lives.”
Another welfare rights adviser, “Billy Durrant”, said he believed that “misrepresentation” of what claimants have said in assessment reports was “endemic”.
He added: “I am also sad to report that I have experienced a number of deliberately deceitful reports by assessors.
“Several claim to have carried out physical examinations and tests that were not done and then used the results of these phantom examinations to justify denying benefit.”
A third benefits adviser, “Allison Southall”, told the committee that the “vast majority of clients [who appeal] tell me that the report compiled by the assessor bares no resemblance to their memory of events or the information they provided.
“At appeal this report is routinely disregarded or discredited and broadly thought of as not fit for purpose.”
The deadline for submitting evidence to the committee for its inquiry is Friday 10 November