Maximus ‘admits’ using brutal and dangerous suicide questions

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One of the outsourcing giants paid to assess disabled people for their eligibility for benefits appears to have admitted that it is standard practice – approved by the government – to ask claimants with mental health conditions why they failed to take their own lives.

A leading clinical psychologist has warned this week that such questioning “brings huge risks” and is one of the reasons behind the increase in suicides associated with the government’s work capability assessment (WCA) process*.

The admission from Maximus, which carries out WCAs for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), came after a disabled campaigner produced a recording of his own assessment.

On the recording, shared with Disability News Service (DNS), a Maximus assessor – an occupational therapist – is heard asking Jonathan Hume a series of questions during his WCA, while typing on a keyboard.

She asks him [his replies have not been included]: “Back to some questions that we have to cover…

“Have you ever tried to harm yourself or take your own life or needed to go to hospital?

“Do you have any thoughts around that at the moment, any intentions or plans to hurt yourself currently?

“When you say desires, how often are you having thoughts like that?

“And what is it that stops you from acting on the thoughts that you have?

“Can you think of any reason that you’re not doing that? Is it friends or family support?”

Hume’s assessment took place in Sunderland last September, and both Maximus and DWP appear to have conceded that the DNS transcription of the questions is an accurate description of what took place.

Hume came forward after fellow disability rights activist Alice Kirby sparked a horrified reaction on social media last week after revealing how the healthcare professional who assessed her eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP) had asked her: “Can you tell me why you haven’t killed yourself yet?”

After she shared her experience, many other claimants came forward to say that they had been asked the same, or a similar, question by their assessors.

Hume said he had raised concerns with Maximus about the questioning by email on the day of his assessment, before he knew the result of his employment and support allowance (ESA) claim.

He told DNS: “As both clinicians and claimants have made clear, the WCA is a hostile, stressful and coercive situation and the carelessness and brutality with which these questions are asked has the potential to do a great deal of harm to vulnerable people, many of whom are already avoiding claiming their rightful benefits due to a system which is degrading and stressful from the first phone call.

“We are forced to justify our very survival in a hostile context to answer questions which are only dubiously related to the legal criteria of ESA.

“Such information, if truly necessary for the claim, could be gained in so many other ways that avoid putting claimants in significant distress and risk, such as written statements from the claimant’s therapists or other carers.

“There are no grounds to continue such questioning.”

Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic, told DNS that people should only be asked about suicidal ideation by a trained professional who can offer help or someone in an “existing trusting relationship with the individual”.

She said that WCAs were “degrading and humiliating experiences for most if not all claimants” and were carried out in a space which was “not a trustworthy one”.

She said: “Individuals are required to parade their distress and feel compelled to answer intrusive questions (for the means to live relies on this).”

She added: “To ask about suicide or self-harm in this context brings huge risks.”

And she said that such questioning “can be suggestive if the environment is unsafe.

“If someone is low or anxious, for example, made to feel they are a ‘skiver’ for needing benefits, an implication that if they were really ill they would have killed themselves can be the final straw. It may lead directly to an attempt on one’s life.”

She said that claimants were “battered with multiple questions about that which is most personal” in disability assessments and questioned about suicide while the assessors are “typing away” on their keyboards.

Watts said: “I have no doubt that questions on suicidal ideation, and the degrading manner in which they are asked, are one reason behind the suicide spike associated with the WCA process.”

She called on Frank Field, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee, to carry out an urgent review of the way disability benefit assessments are carried out.

In a statement, a Maximus spokesman said that its role was “to carry out high quality and sensitive functional assessments”.

He said: “Mr Hulme [sic]contacted us last year and a doctor reviewed the recording of his assessment and the report. 

“We are satisfied that the healthcare professional who conducted the assessment did so in line with our policies and guidelines.

“Every healthcare professional we employ is trained to ask people with a mental health condition a series of clinical questions to assess how their condition affects their daily lives.

“The assessment report was passed to the Department for Work and Pensions, who make the decision on eligibility for benefits.”

He had failed to clarify by noon today (Thursday) whether the questions asked of Jonathan Hume were standard questions; if DWP was aware that such questions were being asked in assessments; and whether Maximus and DWP believed that they were appropriate and safe questions to ask of someone in his situation.

Despite requesting a copy of the recording, which was provided by DNS – with Hume’s agreement – DWP also failed to provide clear answers to a series of key questions.

These include whether it accepted that the questions were asked in Hume’s assessment; whether asking such questions was appropriate and safe in an assessment, particularly for assessors who are not trained mental health professionals; and whether these were standard, DWP-approved questions asked of ESA and PIP claimants with suicidal ideation.

Instead, in response to the DNS questions, a DWP spokeswoman said: “We are not aware of any complaints made to DWP on this issue, but would investigate any allegations thoroughly.

“All PIP assessment providers receive training on mental health conditions, including suicidal issues.”

She said that assessors “receive training in order to conduct functional assessments on behalf of the DWP and their training includes conducting a mental health assessment which may, if appropriate, include questions about suicide or self-harm.

“Health professionals are medically qualified professionals and as such, they should have the appropriate skills to enable them to deal with people in a supportive and sensitive way.

“If an individual has mental health issues or a there is an indication of suicidal thoughts or intentions, this will be given careful and sensitive exploration to establish the circumstances.”

She added: “There is a duty of care to act where appropriate, for example if the individual is considered to be in substantial and imminent risk.

“Both the department and our contracted providers have a duty of care where there is any indication or possibility of suicidal thoughts or intentions, and it would therefore not be appropriate to not explore this further.”

Government-funded research by public health experts from the Universities of Liverpool and Oxford concluded in late 2015 that the programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the WCA was linked to 590 suicides in just three years. Maximus declined to comment on the research at the time.

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  • Heather Dellerue

    I attended such an assessment with my daughter last year. She was asked these questions , she was greatly distressed, fortunately I was with her. Her assessment for ESA failed. Due to great support from her GP , Mental Health Services locally, she has survived. I cant tell you how distressed reading this article has made me. When is this cruelty going to end.WHEN???

    • Elizabeth

      Unfortunately .the dwp. Don’t understand. Meatal health. They asked me also. The silly questions .am not a nasty person .but hope that. They suffer from. Meatal health one day .how smart will they be then told them that were lucky I was there. As if it was not for my kids. A would have thrown in the towel xx

  • Peter McArthur

    That’s disgusting! The assessor is clearly pushing the claimant to say that they are not a high suicide risk.

    “Claimant says that friends and family support prevent them from committing suicide.”

    Then the claimant can be put in the Work Related Activity Group rather than the higher Support Group, and the assessor meets their unofficial quota.

    • Kerrie Ball

      totally agree with what you say peter as my last assessor report said exactly that!

    • Tom Evans

      In addition to the issues raised above, I can’t see how this question is helpful in informing the test that has to be applied unless the aim is to bias the outcome in favour of a fit-for-work finding. Whatever the claimant says will presumably be recorded as ‘the reason they’re not at risk’, but it’s a switcheroo, as the level of risk can’t sensibly be inferred from this.

      • Rebecca

        “switcheroo” great word! Damned if you do damned if you don’t, is it? Irony is “friends and family” were for one young person I know the reasons for his mental ilness but if he’d said that in asssessment he’d have been a dead man walking – which he was as they managed between family and DWP to drive him to it.

  • Mary Teresa O’Mahony

    This is unlawful practice. Prosecute!

  • Julia Simpson

    How horrifying to read how people are belittled in such a way. Shame on those who think they are higher than the law to push people to take their own lives over benefits they are entitled to.

  • Kerrie Ball

    another question they use to test the claimant 🙁 …..i have all my reports from atos and in my latest one it states they asked me that very question along with an answer that was totally the opposite answer to what i gave the assessor at atos at my assessment(hence the reason ive never been successful with my claims for P.I.P)……been trying to get help for 3 years now but because im my 8 year old disabled sons carer im told by dwp they dont pay carers pip(i have that info too)….totally wrong as my sons disabilities/care needs are a lot different to mine…i believe that pip wont exist in 5 years tme and all of us in need will be made to work(hence the reason many people are finding lies on their reports/unable to get the points required due to that factor!…esa claimants and whats happening with their claims is proof….soon we will all only know one benefit and that benefit will be J.S.A 🙁

  • Harriet Townsend

    I know people who are in receipt of both PIP and Carers Allowance. They each have their own criteria and it is perfectly possible for some people to meet the criteria for both. All the problems with the PIP debacle are underpinned by the HPs and the DWP systemically failing to follow either the DWP PIP Assessment Guide or the Regulations and case law, followed by refusal to engage in rational dialogue with anyone who points this out to them.

  • JessieBirdsall

    So, is DNS annoyed that DWP and Maximus have put steps into the WCA to find out whether customers are vulnerable and at risk of self harm? Surely this is exactly what DNS and our community have been campaigning for? This shows that DWP/Maximus takes the mental health of its customers into account. We can’t complain if DWP/Maximus has taken note of the O’Sullivan/Barr cases and introduced measures to identify just such people. These are just standard screening questions to find out if a person’s at risk and are not by any stretch of the imagination “horrific”. This is just jounalistic hyperbole. We can’t demand (just look at previous articles on this website for this) that the government takes these things on board and complain when they do. It just makes us look as if we have double standards.

    • Two quick points: it’s not me saying these things, it’s other people whose words I am reporting (although of course I may agree with them). Secondly, and more importantly, Maximus/DWP are not doing these things for the sake of the customer, they’re asking risky questions in an unsupportive environment to try and justify depriving the claimant of the benefit (which I believe they did, in this case). And the people asking them are completely unqualified to do so and are doing so in a completely inappropriate, hostile and untherapeutic environment. The woman in this case was an occupational therapist. If you had listened to the recording, like I have, I suspect you would be horrified. I hope you would, anyway. She was reading the questions out as if she was trying to sell Jonathan car insurance.
      Please read the words of Jay Watts, as she’s an expert. And please read the words of Jonathan Hume, as he’s an expert by lived experience.
      Finally, if they really wanted to get this information safely, we all know very well what they would do and what they have refused to do since the death of Stephen Carre in January 2010: ensure they get the further medical evidence they need from the medical professionals who have treated the claimants.
      Not ask a hapless occupational therapist to read out a series of questions from a computer screen.
      Can you just remind me who you are again, Jess? I’m always much happier to engage with a critic if I know who they are and where they are coming from.
      Best wishes
      John, editor, DNS

      • Mwxxx .

        “they’re asking risky questions in an unsupportive environment to try and justify depriving the claimant of the benefit (which I believe they did, in this case). ”

        SO, in that case, why won’t you report their FRAUD (you know all about the Fraud Act 2006) to the Police????

        Along with all of that ‘Evidence’ you keep claiming to have?

        SO why won’t you report their VULNERABLE ADULT ABUSE (you know all about Vulnerable Adult Abuse) to Social Services????

        You still too busy counting all of that cash that you are getting from Fake Charity fronts for Criminal Abusers The Labour Party, Maximus and The Department of Work and Pensions? Kerching.
        (you know all about the Bribery Act 2010, and Perverting The Course of Justice)

        —-

        >”Can you just remind me who you are again, Jess?”

        Jess!! DON’T TELL THE CRIMINAL NONCE… you’ll start getting abusing and threatening emails.

        google and checkout laws like –

        Malicious Communications Act
        Protection from Harassment Act 1997
        Accessories and Abettors Act 1861
        Serious Crime Act 2007 – Part 2 – Encouraging or Assisting Crime –
        Assisting an Offender – section 4(1) Criminal Law Act 1967
        Witness Intimidation
        Perverting The Course of Justice

        (another screenshot)

    • Hawk Moor

      It’s a horrible, broken person that can spin this into a positive thing. Just nasty.

    • Patsy Stone

      They risk needs to be determined…but it needs to be determined by someone with the appropriate skills and expertise. If someone being assessed is asked these questions in such a way as to significantly distress the person being assessed it can cause greater harm. If, for example, someone was being assessed for disability payments because they were in a wheelchair, it would be entirely inappropriate to ask that person to stand and try to walk to prove that they had problems doing so. Ask the question “do you use a wheelchair” and then refer to the letters written by that person’s consultant.. The same applies to mental health…or indeed to anything that requires a level of skill. would you give your car to a washing machine engineer to fix?

      • Lydia Whitcombe

        Completely agree with Patsy. As a person who suffers severely from depression and I have had suicidal thoughts many times, when someone not qualified hounds someone like me with these questions and in a matter-of-fact kind of way and with no emotional or professional support, it can cause a great amount of mental distress. It brings back the awful emotions and thoughts, which can then put a person on a major downer again. You, Jesse, clearly have no understanding of depression and suicidal tendencies.

    • PageMonster

      Customers??? Victims is more correct.

  • Harriet Townsend

    I don’t think DNS is objecting to people’s vulnerabilities being assessed, I believe the issue is about how this is done. Of course this kind of vulnerability can be very relevant to genuinely assessing what a person can do safely. The point is that if someone has fragile mental health, then for their safety this subject should be explored by only by people skilled in mental health and in a therapeutic and supportive manner and with the skills and time to ensure the person is not then at risk on leaving. What is actually happening though is that people without the appropriate skills and time to explore this safely are ‘trained’ to quickly read the questions off the computer screen and record the answer. This is not a safe way to raise the subject with a person who suffers suicidal ideation.

  • John Hoggett

    These assesments should be done by a perons’ Dr with a second opinion only being asked for if there is a reason. Privitising this is just bound to put profit before someone’s wellbeing

    • margery harper

      John, this has been going on for over 10 years now. First Atos,now Maximus and the Jobcentreplus trilogy use intimidating and heartless techniques on the most vulnerable. This deliberate and “conscious cruelty”, Michael Meacher led a service for all the thousands that had died as a direct result of these disgusting practices a few years ago in London. Sadly Mr Meacher has passed away now and the situation is no better. Despite diagnosis from their Gp’s, patients are instead assessed by technicians who have had 3 mths training in ticking boxes with intent to fail the patient.

  • SGT Clubba

    I am a bipolar sufferer (among other conditions) and I was asked about suicide during my last WCA by a Capita employed physio, I refused to answer any such questions 3 times before the assessor gave up, this was highlighted in her report and I was placed in support group.

    • Rebecca

      Thankyou for saying this. i would do same as they are not qualified. WEll done. Had a younfg relative with bipolar who may have been asked these and was certainly put thro a ‘Compliance Interview’. He did kill himself shortly after.

  • fran

    I sat with a friend who was having a home assessment. One of the questions he was asked was, ” Do you have thoughts of killing yourself and how often?” …When he replied yes all the time, the next question was , “What about today?” ,He replied yes today as well. To which the assessor declared that she couldn’t go on , the DWP would be informed that he stopped the assessment and he would lose his benefit.When I questioned her over this she said that was the rules that ATOS had. If someone was suicidal they were to stop the assessment.

    • Vicki Maree Whateley

      that is appalling

    • Mark Skinner

      Yes, appalling and ridiculous.

  • Paul Occleshaw

    I was asked very similar questions, my assessor was a CPN and was very apologetic and expressed a lot of compassion but nevertheless I was still extremely stressed, upset and disturbed by this. Do you self harm, have you had suicidal thoughts, are you self harming at present? Have you ever tried to commit suicide. What happened, what stopped you. Later we returned to these Q&As…..Why did you stop self harming, why didn’t you see the suicide attempt through? I came out of the assessment very distressed, anxious and feeling extremely paranoid. On my way home I was left feeling very raw, exposed emotionally and had panic, anxiety attacks. It was a truly awful, traumatic experience I was put through just to claim the support and benefits it turns out I was overwhelmingly entitled to judging by the points i was awarded. The level of scrutiny was almost like being cross-examined by an inquisitor, it left me emotionally unsettled for several weeks having just been through a breakdown and suicidal episode.

  • Kathy Fletcher

    People referred to counselling by their gp are asked (over the phone) “have you ever considered suicide?” If the answer is “no”, they are then asked “if you did try to kill yourself, what method would you use?”

    • Mwxxx .

      .

      I’ve had a similar things from Atos criminal quacks. One about a month after Atos/DWP had spent three months trying to starve me to death (cut all payments) after an Atos criminal lied about me “Not Attending” it’s fraudulent BS assessment…
      That Attempted Murder, and Fraud, is still being covered up by the Course of Justice Perverting criminals at Jeremy Corbyn’s bent South Wales Atos-Police. (google “Atos South Wales Police”)

      >”Dr Jay Watts, a clinical psychologist and academic”

      Clinical Psychologists have *Zero* medical qualifications.
      Fraudster Jay Watts(Phd) is breaking The Medical Act 1983 (sections 49 and 49A) – “Pretending to be registered” and “Pretending to hold a licence to practise” by calling himself “Dr”.

      Just like all of those criminal abusing Atos/Maximus/Capita quacks who call themselves “Health Professionals” and don’t tell you (or state on their assessment reports) that they are NOT medical doctors.
      And that’s even before the criminals start abusing, intimidating and lying.

      Some ‘people’ claim to be “Journalists”. But all they actually do is Public Relations for the criminals they are being paid by.
      If they won’t even mention something as obvious as The Fraud Act 2006, Misconduct in Public Office, Vulnerable Adult Abuse (Care Act 2014 – section 42)… or even just ask “Where are Jeremy Corbyns F*****g Police?” Then the BS they write isn’t worth the paper it isn’t written on.
      .

      • Mark Skinner

        I have found, after years of therapy (1978-1995) that professional “health care” providers can be some of the coldest, most devoid of understanding, and even flippant people inhabiting the “Health” system. At the end of my search for answers I decided that I was better of steering clear of “mental health providers and just look after myself. It was the smartest decision that I have ever made.

        • Rebecca

          Me too, Mark!

        • Mwxxx .

          True.. avoid Pseudoscience quacks like the plague that they are. And if they force you then *Record* the vermin… and google The Fraud Act 2006 and Misconduct in Public Office.

          Looks like this DWP/Maximus/Labour Fake News site (Disability News Service) deleted my comment that you replied to. About how Atos/DWP criminals attempted to *murder* me.
          google – “Homicide: Murder and Manslaughter”

          Hopefully you’ll get a copy of this reply before the Bribed Course of Justice Perverting Nonces at Disability News Service delete this message too.

          Screenshot

    • Harriet Townsend

      The talking therapy counselling services do screen suicide risk over the phone in the first step of the process, but it is different. The person themselves has chosen to be in contact with a specialised mental/psychological health service, and assessing the level of risk has a theraputic purpose because it is related to deciding the best way forward to help, and how urgently that is needed.
      Very different to a benefits interview where the question is asked by a person who is not working for a mental health service and there is no therapeutic follow up. People are not at these interviews by choice, but because a coercive process has been introduced into the benefits system.
      It is really bizarre that patient’s GPs and Consultants are no longer believed to be capable of understanding the functional impact of the medical conditions they treat…..!

    • Rebecca

      True. up to a point but that is as different to questioning by an Atos assessor as consensual sex is to rape. after al , no one goes to an Atos asssessment voluntarily and psychological therapy is generally ones own choice!Maybe you have to have lived through it to understand or at least through actually losing someone to this form of suicide. it is not at all the same thing!

      • Kathy Fletcher

        I didn’t mean to imply that it was the same, merely on the same spectrum. I know several people who have found those IAPTS questions deeply distressing. One young man with previous suicide attempts began to consider suicide again, having thought that he had ‘put it behind him’. Some people got the impression that if they weren’t suicidal then they must be ‘time-wasters’.

  • Sandra Elizabeth Catani

    THIS IS WHY ALL CLAIMANTS NEED TO RECORD EVERY SESSION THEY HAVE WITH ANY GOVERNMENT PAID LACK OR THEIR ASSOCIATES.

    • jmm

      Hi Sandra, any sugestions as to how to do that? I have a P.I.P. assessment next week and having informed atos that I want to record MY assessment, as I HAVE to, I was sent their guidelines for doing so. I am not allowed to use a smart phone, pc, tablet or similar device. The equipment that I do use must be able to simultaniously produce 2 identical cassettes or CDs only. Data files are unacceptable. This seems to make it, in reality, impossible to record the assessment. I would very much appreciate any help regarding this.

      • goldenmug

        You have to produce 2 identical recordings, but you don’t need a special machine for this. You need to beg, buy or borrow 2 cassette recorders – even dictaphones
        will do, providing that they work with cassettes and not digital
        recordings. You could try looking on Amazon or ebay.

        Make sure you tell the centre in advance that you want to record so that they can arrange for you to be seen by someone who is prepared to be recorded. Take two fresh tapes with you and open them in front of the assessor. Afterwards they keep one tape and you keep the other. If you need it for a tribunal, you will need to provide a transcript.

        Atos (or whoever) say that the tapes are for “your personal use only.” Agree to this and don’t elaborate.

        Good luck

  • Mez Merrit

    My job capacity assessor reported I had paranoid delusions and anti-social behaviour among a long list of other accusations that were designed to depict me as ‘uncooperative’ and deserving of penalties. The words in that report depressed me to the point of feeling worthless and suicidal.

    I later saw a REAL mental health professional who performed a range of tests and ultimately diagnosed me with Autism Spectrum Disorder – meaning: “indifference” is not a paranoid delusion and social withdrawal is a perfectly human response.

    My job-network provider then made an appointment with me at a cafe and reduced me to tears in the street, tauntingly claiming she knew Autism and I was most certainly not. It has taken years to recover and to accept ASD as my lot in life.

    I do believe THAT is the point being made in this article. These people are not trained to deal with disabilities/vulnerabilities appropriately and they ARE putting the public at risk with their own ignorance. Even more ignorant are the government programs they undertake which make them believe they’re adequately equipped to handle such matters when clearly they aren’t.

    This is less about the people earning an honest living doing as they are told and more about those telling them what to do. More fool the tax-payers who think they’re saving money by paying multi-layered private corporations to terrorize the public in their names.

    Yes! I did just drop the T-word. What else can you call it?

    • Rebecca

      “paranoid delusions and anti-social behaviour” Sheesh! Good to be warned! Glad I am trying to get a diagnosis now! Much loive to you and glad you managed to beat their weaselling and come thro!

  • T Davies

    The ATOS assessor (very young nurse) asked me about my depression. “Have you thought about killing yourself?” followed by “so, what’s stopping you?” I answered that I would not wish to do that to my children (but of course depression at it’s worst can override a person’s best intentions) It was noted on my records that I was not a suicide risk as my kids were a preventative factor. The blunt indifference to me as a human being coming from a woman young enough to be my daughter was the coldest, most unsettling experience of my whole PIP assessment. I had come face to face with a person who reminded me of how people processed camp internees for the Nazis. They just stop seeing us as human and not worthy of any compassion. I got the impression she wanted my generation to get out of the way and drop dead.

  • Rebecca

    It is very easy to see how former abuse victims would be tipped to suicide.

  • Sula

    A friend of mine was aske by the assessor if, when she was experiencing an manic episode, she became promiscuous. Playing devils advocate I suppose it was to establish my friend’s level of self-awareness and vulnerability. But it was totally wrong and invasive to bring this up in such a setting. They really don’t seem to have any insight into mental illness at all and shouldn’t be in such a position of power over people’s lives.

  • Lisa Sherrington

    I had an assessment done in november lasr year at sunderland and i was asked these aswel when i said yes i have tried tl take my own life and i do think about doing it again and asked whats stops you from wanting tokill myself i said looking at my granchildrens photos on my living room wall .what kind of people are they employing. a nurse who is not qualified to deal with mental health can ask stupid questions she even says i begged her for a phone number to get hypnotised she sat and spoke about her self been on the sick for drpression and hadnt long returned with the help of getting hypnotised £150 a seesion i told her i get £144 a fortnite i wouldnt waste my money but never mentioned this to the dwp even maximus must think im gona get fobbed off they said they will montior her so now im waiting for there investagator to get mine and my daughters side of what happened in that room i think they need to scrap the compnies and if anything bring professonal people in and see how fit people are capable for work GPs are looking like fools cos that sick note he fills out means nothing to these people. I would be curious who the assessor is has i have spoke to a few people and they says the same name who did mine .i got 0 points off her aswel