Aug 052013
 

Hoban-Expenses-235x300

Last month (12 June), Mark Hoban said this during a debate on people’s right to ask for a recording of their employment and support allowance face-to-face assessments: http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130612/debtext/130612-0004.htm#13061288000001

 

“The Department and Atos are in the process of amending written communications to claimants by updating the WCA AL1C form. The document is sent to claimants when they need to arrange a face-to-face assessment and will provide more information on how to arrange an audio-recorded assessment. We expect the revised form to be sent out to claimants by the end of next month, once the necessary changes have been made and the form has been cleared for use.” 

In other words – the DWP was finally going to change the documents it sends to ESA claimants to let them know that they can ask to have their Atos face-to-face assessments recorded. It’s vital that people know they have that right, because with a recording, they are able to demonstrate beyond doubt what was said and what happened at their assessments.

By “the end of next month,” Hoban surely meant the end of July – and we’ve just gone past that deadline.

 

Jayne Linney, DPAC, Black Triangle, False Economy and Public Interest Lawyers  (who, with disabled man Patrick Lynch, took a legal action against the DWP last year on people’s right to record their assessments http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/13/disabled-man-government-court-benefit-test ) are publishing this blog and asking you to reblog and share it to find out if the DWP has changed the documents it sends out to ESA claimants and if people have noted that. Earlier this month, the DWP sent Public Interest Lawyers this document as an example of the leaflet that claimants should receive about their face-to-face assessments. This document includes information which advises people of their right to ask for a recording. We want to know whether people are getting that document and if word is spreading that people can make that request.

 

This is important for a number of reasons. The first is, of course, that people need to know they have this right and that they can request a recording when they are called to an Atos ESA face-to-face assessment. The second is that Hoban claims that he is evaluating the demand for recordings and that he’ll be doing so until the end of summer 2013. (It will be important for people to respond to these blogs as soon as possible – by the end of August 2013 at the very latest – that being the case). http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201314/cmhansrd/cm130612/debtext/130612-0004.htm#13061288000001

 Hoban continues to argue that the demand for recordings is not high. Campaigners have argued, rightly, that their surveys https://dpac.uk.net/2012/11/dpac-survey-responses-on-wca-what-harrington-didnt-ask/

 and calls for information show that people do want recordings – and that demand may well increase if people actually know that they can ask for a recording. Unfortunately – or intentionally – Hoban says that the evaluation of demand will finish at the end of summer. That isn’t far away and doesn’t give anybody much time to find out if the amended documentation (presuming that people are receiving it) is having an effect. The third reason that this is important is that the DWP says it has based its decision NOT to offer recordings for Personal Independence Payment assessments on the ESA experience: “the DWP has not seen evidence from other disability assessments that this would improve the quality of assessments,” Esther McVey told parliament this year. So evidence of the demand for ESA recordings is very relevant to the PIP debate. http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201213/cmhansrd/cm130418/text/130418w0003.htm#13041838000125  The department’s whole approach to recording PIP assessments is a mess – Capita, which has a contract to carry out some of the PIP assessments, originally said it would offer recordings. McVey put a stop to that and said that it wouldn’t. Meanwhile, the DWP was telling journalists that recordings would be offered for PIP assessments.  http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/07/secret-cuts-part-four-personal-independence-payments They’re making it up as they go along, so pressure needs to be applied.

 

The aim should be to get rid of the work capability assessment altogether – but while it’s there, safeguards like recordings of assessments need to be in place. Claimants and campaigners have fought hard for the right to record their face-to-face assessments. As we’ve said, people need to be able to demonstrate beyond doubt what is said at assessments. Atos is notorious for returning fit-for-work reports which ignore a claimant’s true circumstances and the details shared in face-to-face assessments. The ever-increasing number of ESA appeals  http://mikesivier.wordpress.com/2013/06/28/esa-appeals-more-than-double-and-decisions-in-the-claimants-favour-are-increasing/ prove Atos’ problems with accuracy.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/13/disabled-man-government-court-benefit-test

Campaigners have won some concessions through their hard work. These include a commitment from the DWP to offer ESA assessment recordings (on “official” dual-CD recording equipment – people still can’t bring their own recording equipment unless it can dual-produce a CD or cassette). The changed paperwork was another concession. Let’s see if they’ve done it and if people are aware of it.

Download DWP Notes Sheet on assessment

https://dpac.uk.net/wp-content/uploads/2013/08/WCAAL1C_0713-21.pdf

 

 

 

 

May 172013
 

Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions’ much criticised work capability assessments for Employment Support Allowance continue to present a never ending saga of misery, disbelief and despair.

A recent post on the False Economy blog talks of meetings to try and discover mental function champions (MFCs). These are claimed to exist but so far none have been produced or found that adequately satisfies that burning question of where MFCs are or what exactly they do .

In addition, both the BMA and more recently, the RCN have voted to stop the process of Atos assessments, due to the harm they are causing.

On Thursday the 16th of May, Dr Greg Wood an Atos worker told most of us what we already know: Atos assessments are biased. He decided to resign and go public despite having signed a confidentially agreement with Atos, something they put in place after nurse Joyce Drummond also went public and said of her role at Atos:

‘‘I apologise from the bottom of my heart to all those people I had to assess during my five months in the job but the decisions were out of my hands. Once I realised how manipulative the assessment system was, I got out immediately. The stress of it all made me ill and I have not worked since.”

In January 2013 another nurse who worked with Atos told Atos Victims Group :

“I could not live with the knowledge of what I was doing and the effect this could have on somebody’s life.   Although there are a number of people who are more than capable of work, the majority are genuine, sick people who need our help, not to be demoralised in this way.  I saw so many people who would cry in front of me, because they want to work so much, but couldn’t”. 

Now Greg Wood tells the Guardian, if Atos assessors: “show deviation from the official line they are instructed to change the report. In about a quarter of assessments important documentary evidence such as the claimant’s own GP assessment is missing but the assessments go ahead regardless.”

Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions trot out the same lines in response: can anyone in the UK believe them at all? Apparently, everyone is lying but them.

Not only are these assessments supposed to be joy on earth, they are claimed to be backed by a mysterious force called a mental function champion. False Economy say:

“In 2011, Atos introduced Mental Function Champions into the ESA work capability process to “improve” assessments for people with mental health problems. A group of us have spent six months trying to find out exactly how this MFC role works, if MFCs have “improved” work capability assessments for people with mental health problems and if anyone at Atos or the DWP can prove that the role has had any impact for people who must go through WCAs.

We’ve had very little luck. We did manage to get a meeting with Atos, someone who said he was an MFC and the DWP on the topic, but that was not particularly satisfactory, as you’ll see:

For months now, mental health service users and campaigners from the voluntary sector consortium group Mental Health Northeast (MHNE), Newcastle user-led mental health support group Launchpad and False Economy have been trying find out more about the work done by Atos Mental Function Champions”.

Read more at False Economy http://falseeconomy.org.uk/blog/mental-function-champions

 update: apparently Dr Wood may have been an MFC but as he has now left- if  anyone has had any other sightings or knowledge of an MFC we’d be interested in hearing about it

mail@dpac.uk.net

 

Links

http://www.dailyrecord.co.uk/news/scottish-news/nurse-makes-heartfelt-apology-after-1340838

http://atosvictimsgroup.co.uk/2013/01/31/ex-atos-nurse-reveals-the-real-inside-story/

http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2013/may/16/atos-doctor-claimants-biased-medical-assessments

 

 

 

Dec 142012
 

Public Interest Lawyers    Press Release – 14 December 2012

A disabled man who was wrongly found fit for work under the government’s disability benefit assessment scheme is launching legal action to try and stop more disabled people being wrongly kicked off the social safety net.

 Patrick Lynch, a former social care worker who was forced to quit work because of his impairments, is seeking a judicial review of the controversial disability benefit assessment scheme run by Atos.

 The Work Capability Assessment (WCA), which determines eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) for people whose health or impairment stops them from working, is at present hugely unreliable, with many people wrongly found fit for work despite severely debilitating and in some cases life-threatening conditions.

 The legal action is seeking a ruling that would require Atos, the private firm that runs the WCA process on behalf of the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), to grant all ESA claimants the unequivocal right to have their assessment recorded and to receive their WCA report before a decision on their eligibility is made – both key safeguards against people’s health conditions being misreported or ignored altogether.

 DWP research and a survey conducted by Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) both show widespread demand from claimants to have their WCA assessments recorded, to ensure their medical conditions are not misrepresented in order to wrongly strip them of benefits. But while the DWP granted the right to request a recording earlier this year, there are considerable bureaucratic obstacles to both securing a recording and then using it in an appeal, with Atos recently introducing a restrictive ‘consent form’ for those wanting a recording of their assessment.

 The case is being brought by Public Interest Lawyers, and draws on research by Disabled People Against Cuts and the TUC-backed campaign group False Economy.

 Mr Lynch wants the DWP and Atos to adopt the following safeguards:

 a)    Universal recording to ensure that all claimants undergoing a WCA or an assessment under the new PIP benefit system will have the right to have their assessment recorded;

b)    Claimants will get a copy of the WCA report before a decision is made on their eligibility for ESA, and will have the chance to raise any concerns with the DWP decision maker;

c)    The DWP/Atos will be responsible for obtaining medical evidence from the medical professional named by the claimant;

d)    The DWP ensures that all assessment centres are fully accessible.

 Taken together, these measures would address some of the inaccuracy inherent in the disability benefits system. Disability campaigners have raised repeated concerns over how the WCA process causes huge stress for ESA recipients, with many disabled people’s lives ruined after wrongly having their benefits removed.

 Mr Lynch, now a campaigner with DPAC, was found fit for work following a flawed WCA report in 2010, before the DWP reconsidered and reversed the decision. His most recent WCA this year upheld his benefit entitlement, but even then Atos’ report of his assessment contained inaccuracies.

 In bringing the action Mr Lynch notes

 “Disabled people and the poor in this Country have always struggled to get what they are duly entitled to. The fight must go on to address the injustice caused by this out of touch Government.

 A DPAC spokesperson said:

 “The evidence is clear – more than 98 percent of those responding to our survey said they wanted their assessment recorded and that they believed it would provide a better account. However, many reported a whole host of barriers in getting a recording in place.”

 A spokesperson for False Economy, whose investigations into WCA recordings informed some of the background to the recording debate, said that the rights of ESA claimants are crucial.

 “Too many people feel vulnerable in this process. People feel that their final assessment reports inaccurately reflect information exchanged during work capability assessments. We’ve found it hard to pin down the DWP on recording policy. Universal recording, and giving people the opportunity to see their WCA reports before final eligibility decisions are made, will go some way towards restoring fairness and accuracy while the WCA process continues.

 Tessa Gregory of Public Interest Lawyers, Mr Lynch’s solicitor states:

 The Work Capability Assessment process needs urgent reform. There is an unacceptable risk of unfairness in the current system and we hope these safeguards will be instituted to help mitigate that risk.”

 TUC General Secretary Brendan Barber said:

 “Assessments of disability must be fair and proportionate, treat people with respect and be part of a consistent system. There is overwhelming evidence that they have fallen far short of these basic standards. It is right that they should be challenged in court.

 END

 Contact at Public Interest Lawyers:

 Tessa Gregory, tessa.gregory@publicinterestlawyers.co.uk

0121 515 5069

 see: http://www.guardian.co.uk/society/2012/dec/13/disabled-man-government-court-benefit-test

see:http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/11/dpac-survey-responses-on-wca-what-harrington-didnt-ask/