PIP investigation: Capita made me a scapegoat, says disgraced assessor

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Healthcare professionals who carry out disability benefits assessments for the government complete as much as 60 per cent of their reports before they meet the disabled person they are supposed to be assessing, according to a disgraced former assessor.

Paramedic Alan Barham was sacked after being exposed last year by an undercover reporter working for Channel 4’s Dispatches.

But he has now contacted Disability News Service (DNS) to protest about the way he has been treated, claiming that he has been made a “scapegoat” by Capita, the outsourcing company he was working for, but which sacked him after the documentary was aired.

He also claims that personal independence payment (PIP) claimants are frequently “ripped off” by assessors who fail to complete their reports fairly, although he insists that he was not guilty of such practices himself.

And he claims that nearly everything he was caught saying by Dispatches – for which he now faces the possibility of being struck off by his regulatory body – was standard practice, and was therefore “driven by Capita”.

Barham is facing a Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC) disciplinary hearing over comments he was filmed making about the way he carried out PIP assessments.

HCPC has decided that separate allegations that he lied in a report he wrote after assessing a disabled woman’s eligibility for PIP will not be dealt with by a disciplinary hearing.

Barham claims he is innocent of most of the charges against him, insisting that he was only following instructions and guidelines laid down by Capita.

And he says he is set to sue Capita for making him “a scapegoat for their protocols”, and that the fallout from the documentary has led to the break-up of his marriage and the loss of his business.

He told DNS: “I hope they crash and burn, I really do. Capita is a monster. I’m not. They are.”

Barham’s claims are just the latest development in an ongoing DNS investigation into claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors working for both Capita and Atos on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

One of the most disturbing claims made by Barham during the hour-long telephone interview was that assessors are instructed by Capita to “pre-populate” their written assessment reports before they have even carried out their face-to-face assessments.

This time-saving measure, he says, means that up to three-fifths of the 25-page reports are completed before an assessor has met the disabled person at the assessment.

In the documentary, he had claimed that, on one assessment, he had “literally finished [the]assessment before I’d even walked through the door”.

Now he says he was exaggerating, and that he had not completed all of the report before the assessment took place, but he insists that filling in large parts of it beforehand was, and is, standard procedure at Capita.

He says it is called “pre-population”, and allows assessors to fill in as much of the PA4 report [the assessment report that drives the DWP decision to accept or reject a PIP claim]as they can from the evidence they have already seen.

He said: “There’s lots and lots and lots of pre-population.”

Barham also defended his claim – also caught by undercover footage in last year’s Dispatches documentary – that an assessor can usually “completely dismiss” most of what he or she is told in an assessment by the claimant.

He said this was because assessors are told by Capita that they can use “informal observations” of claimants to draw conclusions about the accuracy of what they are saying.

He said: “I’ve had people saying I can’t wash my own hair but at the end of an assessment put a hat on their head, or have taken a hat off prior to the start of the assessment. And this is what we’re asked to look for.”

Asked if Capita tells its assessors to constantly set traps for their claimants and try to trick them into doing things they say they cannot do, he said: “Absolutely, yes, and this is why I rang you back.

“Because I’m berated for what I was perceived to be doing, but I stood in a training room for a week with Capita in Birmingham being told to do all this.”

In the documentary, he discussed how at one point, soon after the introduction of PIP, assessors like him who were paid as contractors were able to earn huge sums of money.

He repeated that claim to DNS, saying: “We used to earn £80 an assessment for the first eight [assessments a week].

“[Then they] doubled that to £160 an assessment for the first eight, then they went from eight to 14 at 200-and-something an assessment, and from 14 to 20 it was £300 an assessment, and 20 onwards it was £350 an assessment.”

Barham claims that he was considered one of the top 10 out of 600 PIP assessors in the country and that in two years he carried out 1,000 assessments for Capita, although he refused to say how much he earned in total during that time.

He said: “I’m not an animal. This is what’s really annoying me: Capita told me to do all this.

“I’ve done this, as per Capita, as per guidelines, as per my contract, as per my employer… and there’s rules when you’re employed, and you follow them rules and you will keep your job.”

Barham’s one admission of regret was about making an offensive comment about an unnamed PIP claimant, who he was heard describing as “so fat she can’t wipe her own arse” and who he said had a “disability known as being fat”.

He said this was just “a generic comment to a couple of colleagues in an office that happens every day around the country in lots of offices”, and that it was “not detrimental to her”.

He said: “It was just a personal opinion. We have all said things we shouldn’t say.

“I regret it 100 per cent, and like I said, I’m a human being, we all make derogatory remarks. Rightly or wrongly, we all do it. It’s something I shouldn’t have said.”

Barham said that he would provide DNS with 134 written documents that would prove that nearly all of the comments he made in the documentary represented standard Capita procedure.

But he changed his mind after the interview and said that handing over the documents to DNS would “jeopardise” his defence at the HCPC hearing.

Two weeks ago, DNS reported the concerns of David Nicholls, from Northampton, the husband of one of the PIP claimants who had been assessed by Barham.

DNS has seen Capita’s response to Nicholls’ complaint about the assessment report Barham wrote following an assessment of his wife, Jacqueline, in March last year, a month before the Dispatches documentary was screened.

As a result of the assessment, she was found ineligible for PIP.

It was only after the documentary was aired and DWP agreed to allow her to be reassessed that she was granted the enhanced rate for both the daily living and mobility components of PIP.

In its response to the Nicholls complaint about Barham, a Capita senior complaint handler wrote: “You stated that you disagree with the content of your assessment report and that you believe [Barham] had made inaccurate assumptions and had lied in his report…

“Based on the outcome of my investigation, I uphold this element of your complaint.”

In his report, Barham repeatedly stated that what he was told by Jacqueline Nicholls was not backed up by the tests he carried out during the assessment.

But David Nicholls has told DNS that Barham ignored the impact of his wife’s brain injury on both her physical and mental functioning, including her seizures, her confusion when asked too many questions, the lack of feeling in parts of her body, her memory problems, and her tendency to get lost when on her own.

Barham reported instead that she could plan and follow routes, understand complex written information without any help, and make her own budgeting decisions.

Nicholls said Barham had “misled people with the findings in his report in the worst possible way” and that his assessment had given “no consideration to brain injury at all”.

 He said that the effect of dishonest assessors like Barham on disabled people was “devastating”.

Presented with the words of David Nicholls, the conclusion of Capita that he had lied in the assessment report, evidence from medical experts, and the results of the second assessment, which awarded Jacqueline Nicholls the enhanced rate of PIP for both mobility and daily living, Barham insisted to DNS that his assessment had been correct, according to Capita procedures.

He claimed that he had no choice but to take her answers as she gave them to him, even though her husband had told her that he needed to take account of her brain injury.

Barham said: “I stand by my judgement at the time because I did not receive any of what we call further medical evidence to back up what she was telling me.”

But David Nicholls says that Capita had been sent a letter from an epilepsy nurse outlining the impact of his wife’s condition, and that Barham had insisted at the start of the assessment that he had read this letter and that he had all the information he needed.

Nicholls said this week: “The system is not fit for purpose and he has exploited it.”

Barham also told DNS that many PIP claimants were being “ripped off” by their assessors, who were completing unfair assessment reports, although he said he had not done so himself.

He said this was because assessors were given only 45 minutes to carry out their assessments – and often have to carry out five a day – and then have just 24 hours to write all of those reports.

He said: “They are under pressure, their managers are on their back all the time.

“You [carry out]an assessment and you’re given 24 hours to turn that assessment around and present it to them.”

Barham insisted to DNS that he was “not a nasty person, I am a nice person.

“I have been a paramedic for years and I love my job. I have letters galore from patients, thanking me for what I have done for them.

“I feel like I’ve been absolutely smashed to bits and used as a scapegoat for Capita.

“All I have done is, yes, I made a derogatory comment, I wish I hadn’t, wishing is not going to make it go away.

“But I have done it, I have reflected on it and I’ve learned from it.

“Everything else is Capita-driven. Everything is Capita-driven. I’m sick to death of being a scapegoat.”

He added: “I have lost my business, my wife has split up [with me], my whole life has split apart since April.

“I have disabled friends. I have no problems with disability. This is the thing that’s driving me crazy.”

He said that he was now set to sue Capita for making him “a scapegoat for their protocols. I have done everything I was asked to do, apart from calling someone too fat.”

Capita failed to deny any of the claims made by Barham, but refused to respond in depth to his comments.

A Capita spokesman said: “Capita’s focus is on undertaking quality assessments in an efficient and professional manner.

“We expect all of our assessors to carry out assessments as outlined by the DWP.

“If individuals do not meet our expectations we will always take appropriate action.”

DWP also declined to comment on the claims made by Barham.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “This is a commercial matter for Capita. We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out PIP assessments and work closely with them to continuously improve and ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.”

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19 Comments

    • Colleen Callinan on

      Exactly my thoughts. He was there because he could earn excellent money and he wasn’t thinking of anyone but his own gain. Nasty man. Yes probably being made a scapegoat but that’s the chance you take when dealing with something like Capita. Can’t do the Time….. etc

  1. lifewithoutpainhasnomeaning on

    The bland response from the DWP says it all. They really couldn’t give two hoots, as to what he has to say, what has been exposed, or whether Crapita are, or are not, doing a good job. Because, quite simply, as far as the govt is concerned it’s all about saving money by tossing people off benefits regardless of need.

    After all, if they don’t keep squeezing the poor, the disabled, closing vital services, crushing social care and the NHS, heck, they might have to raise taxes on those who can MOST afford it! And that will never do!

  2. More disgraceful mistreatment of the most vulnerable in society. I am no longer surprised at the depths this govt is prepared to go to… Work camps and extermination camps seem ever more likely, don’t they?

  3. He clearly has no integrity and if he gets struck off by his regulatory body, that will be down to his own actions.
    “A generic comment …that happens everyday in lots of offices…” Yes it does, yet these attitudes are never seen as barriers to work for people with disabilities. The government continually make the case that it is the less abled person who doesn’t want to work, because we have legislation to protect us.
    Thank you for contacting him.

  4. How do these so called HCP’s get away with the lies they put into their reports? When DR’s register with the likes of the GMC to practice, they take an undertaking similar to the old Hippocratic oath , that they will always act in the best interests of the patient and never do anything that could harm them intentionally ,

    And even whilst they work as a occupational therapist for private companies, or work as a assessor for benefit decisions these undertakings still apply, this info is available from the GMC and the NMC web sites, even other HCP’s have similar ,

    So how can they write fictitious reports that could result in someone’s health or health condition worsening ,? it’s against what they signed up to do, being employed by Maximum arse or Atossers /Crapita doesn’t mean they can legally ignore this, Maybe a few of these HCP’s should be sued struck off the register , I doubt that their employers will protect them

    • Caoimhin Paradox on

      I agree totally and am enquiring about that very thing. They are in breach of duty of care and various Standards of Professional Conduct / Proficiences (Physiotherapists). I told them that if the guy who ‘assessed’ me wrote reports on his patients like he did on me – he’d at least be suspended til futher investigations.

      You are right too that even working for Capita/Atos they are legally bound by these Standards and can be struck off if found in breach. Health Care Professionals in hospitals have been suspended, struck off for far, far less. And even for making genuine mistakes – but mistakes that put the public in jeopardy and make the fitness to practice of the practitioner at least questionable.

      This is illegal.

      And this guy trying to excuse himself doesn’t excuse it. He should have known he was working illegally and outside his remit – qualifications and expertise. He failed miserably in his ‘duty of care’ on so many levels. He should be glad he doesn’t end up getting locked up. He is right too though. Capita / Atos will scapegoat the ‘health care professionals’ – assessors -when they too, Capita / Atos are ultimately responsible.

      I would love to see the guidelines from Capita he speaks about. Anyone know what they are or where to find them ?

      I don’t know why everyone is not seeing this and working with this.

      DWP don’t seem to realise, or maybe they do, that at least some of these people/assessors might be working illegally and putting the health, lives of the public at risk. Criminal. Where’s the DWP, Atos/Capita duty of care ?

      • Oh the DWP are paymaster , But it’s ulimately the government so matter which party they are (all 3 mainstream are one)

        • Caoimhin Paradox on

          I will hear something tomorrow I am sure Tom. That ‘report’ isn’t worth the paper it was written on. I know it and now so do they.

          Will keep posted.

  5. Sandra Elizabeth Catani on

    the one i had out to me asked myself and my carer, who was present, a load of questions, which we answered. now she sat there scribbling away the entire time, but when i was told i would not be getting pip i said ok why, they sent me the form she had filled out. and when i phoned to complain because for every question she asked she wrote NO or NOT APPLICABLE to everything, which was a pack of lies. when i complained i was told,”it’s your word against her’s”. i then scanned and sent the her version along with our version of what should have been put in, and the new tit that took over from I.D.Smith, is ten times the b*****d smith was, as he said, ” it’s you and your witnesses word against a government backed member of staff”.
    now this guy is bleating because he’s been sacked. the real reason he was sacked was because he was dumb enough to be caught out.
    personally i think now that this is out in the open, everyone who had their claims rejected should reapply.

  6. I find it incredibly difficult to feel bad for this man. It’s bad enough that I’ve gone through many assessments and been treated like crap, been ignored, humiliated, mocked and bullied.

    Yes his life is hard, but it’s because of what he did. But other people are going through hell with absolutely no fault of their own. It’s bad enough all of my conditions mean I am constantly in tremendous pain. I can’t go out and enjoy life, I’m trapped indoors unable to sit up because of issues with my spine.

    I didn’t do anything to deserve this, I worked up to the point my doctor was considering hospitalisation because I was killing myself as I was terrified to stop working. Yet every assessment I am mocked, insulted and ignored. My doctors letters are ignored. I get no ready as in constantly sorting out something with them.

    I’m tired. I’m hurting. And I only just finished a tribunal and I only have a year of safety. The day after the tribunal letter came through confirming I had gone from no mobility to enhanced. I got a letter about ESA. About reassessing and potential face to face interveiws. I just curled up and wanted to cry because I’m just tired. I don’t know if I can keep doing this.

    In 2011 when I was told I had to stop there was a recovery plan. Every DWP assessment brought a nasty flare. After each flare I never fully recovered before the next one so I kept getting worse and worse. I don’t know if I could handle much more. I have to many conditions, to many symptoms… Just to much pain.

  7. How is it a commercial matter for Capita? He’s confirming things that prove that the gov. are using a totally corrupt company to assess those with disabilities.

  8. Edward Millership on

    Says almost everyone who has been caught in a lie, absolutely no sympathy for Barham. Yes, he is only a cog in a big machine, it just how it started in the 30’s..

  9. Stacey Cornish on

    These so called assessor,s are indeed cruel and callous individuals you,ve got to be when your inline with the dwp.last year I attended an assessment I was of course very anxious , what he proceeded to say has shocked and astounded everyone I tell. As I had my back to him moving my chair he proceeded to say sit down there or I’ll punch you in the face , I have made a complaint of course,no evidence so it,s just recorded on his file and a slap on the wrist he was a paramedic as well I know most do a wonderful job but it,s these cretins that let the rest down . This government have a lot to answer for .

  10. >” – was standard practice, and was therefore “driven by Capita”.”

    Just because an employer is bribing (Bribery Act) wca quacks with a huge salary and bonuses and Abetting (Accessories and Abettors Act 1861) their unqualified Frauds (Fraud Act) that does not mean that the vulnerable adult abusing criminal nonce sickos shouldn’t be stuffed in prison where they belong.

    Only bent criminal cops are preventing that. (Along with criminal politicians and Fake ‘journalists’).

    Why won’t this Fake News site ask where is the Police investigation into all of the vulnerable adult abusing fraudsters???
    Too busy counting their cash, and making them just as much to blame for the latest crimes and Homicides.

  11. I had to go to my assessment in December the assessor was only interested in talking about her dog and horses I had my DLA indefinitely top rate when I got my pip they had taken £252 a month of me the assessor had omitted information and had wrote lies in put a mandatory reconsideration in it didn’t make any difference how do these people sleep at night.

  12. I’m fuming. My daughters recent ordeal at a f2f has directly made her soar mentally and physically. My 17 year old daughter had a horrendous assessment. Was clearly in pain and slurring and disrupted hearing due to anxiety attack. Asked lots mental health questions like had she ever felt suicidal attempted suicide and even if she felt suicidal or had suicidal thoughts now. Kept interrupting answers and saying to stop talking so she could finish typing. Vigils see my daughter was getting weaker and worse and even when she fell forwards with pain and dizziness on attempt of 1st physical assessor made her try and carry on faster. Despite my daughter saying was feeling like was blacking out felt nauseous was dizzy and in lot of pain. Report full of lies omissions contradictions and I suspect was being written during the assessment. Lot of spelling and grammatical errors and cut and paste too. Many questions not asked but report makes out were answered! No examples given were cited. Made my daughter much worse and even suicidal thoughts after the experience and result. And on receipt of decision letter which scored 0 across the board and worse again on receipt of assessors report. Assessor saw her on a really bad day and made her feel worse – even receptionist was concerned after it as she fell into door frame on way out of room and had to sit in reception for ages barely able to see/hear/speak and shaking with stress trauma pain etc.

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