PIP investigation: Welfare expert says two-thirds of appeals involve lying assessors

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Welfare rights experts have produced evidence that backs up the findings of a Disability News Service (DNS) investigation into the lies told by healthcare professionals in their disability benefit assessment reports.

Last week, the two-month investigation revealed how assessors working for the outsourcing companies Capita and Atos – most of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.

The investigation suggested a serious, institutional problem that stretched across the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and its contractors, whose staff carry out face-to-face assessments of eligibility for personal independence payment (PIP).

Now two separate welfare rights advice organisations say they have their own evidence that confirms many of the DNS findings.

Graeme Ellis (pictured), who founded the Lancaster-based social enterprise Here2Support, said he and his colleagues are currently lodging up to 30 PIP appeals a week on behalf of claimants, and “20 to 25” of them involve assessors who have told lies in their reports.

Here2Support has now started requesting some tribunals to call the Atos assessors to give evidence at appeals so they can be questioned about the honesty of their reports.

But on the three occasions they have tried this so far, all have resulted in a DWP decision-maker reversing their decision and finding in favour of the claimant, despite the mandatory reconsideration – the internal DWP appeal – having already taken place.

He said this shows that DWP “know damn well that the assessors are not reporting accurately”.

Ellis said that he has been to many assessments in which the subsequent reports bore no relation to what the assessors were told by the claimant.

He said: “You read the report and your first thought is, ‘It’s somebody entirely different.’ And most of these cases are successful at appeal.”

Ellis and his colleagues do not have the resources to attend many face-to-face assessments themselves, but he has still witnessed this happening himself about eight times in the last three months.

Among the tricks played by Atos, he said, is to force PIP claimants to walk down a long corridor to get from the waiting area to the assessment room.

Even if they are able to make it – and he has seen claimants in such discomfort that they fall against the corridor wall – this does not mean that the claimant can do so “safely, reliably and repeatedly”, which assessors should take into account, he said.

He has also read reports in which the assessor said the claimant walked to the assessment room, even though they arrived in a wheelchair.

Another frequent comment is to say the claimant showed no signs of breathlessness or anxiety, even though they had been in tears during the assessment, he said.

Ellis points out that he has had some cases in which the assessor has produced an honest and accurate report, only for the DWP decision-maker to ignore what had been written.

Asked why there were so many dishonest reports, he said: “There have got to be some [assessors]doing it for kicks, but I think it is the pressure on the employer on how many people they let through.

“DWP deny it, but there is pressure from DWP on Atos and Capita to meet targets.”

And he believes that many of the problems with dishonest reports are the result of last year’s post-budget chaos, in which the government had to perform a u-turn over plans to tighten eligibility for PIP, following the resignation of work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith.

This left a hole in DWP’s spending plans, Ellis believes, that it has filled by somehow increasing pressure on the assessment regime.

He said: “Because they were unsuccessful in the budget last year with the plans for PIP, I think this is the aftermath.”

It was Ellis who, last spring, embarrassed the Tory party by resigning in disgust at George Osborne’s budget, after voting Conservative for nearly 50 years.

He had been managing the Conservative Disability Group’s website, and left a message on the site, stating: “This website is temporarily closed owing to Disability Cuts.”

Asked whether it was happy for PIP assessors to be questioned by tribunal appeal panels, a DWP spokeswoman said in a statement, released less than an hour before today’s final DNS deadline: “As you’ve not provided the details of these cases, we are unable to look into them.

“However, assessment providers work on behalf of DWP and it is DWP who have overall responsibility for making decisions.

“Therefore, it wouldn’t be appropriate for an assessor to attend a tribunal.

“In many cases, appeals are granted because further medical evidence is provided.”

Evidence of concerns about PIP assessors has also come this week from Southampton Advice and Representation Centre (SARC).

Just before Christmas, SARC published research analysing the results of 100 appeal tribunals in which it supported claimants between August 2015 and December 2016.

SARC’s analysis found that it had been successful in 78 of those cases – although it only takes on cases where it has a reasonable chance of overturning the DWP decision – the highest success rate it has had for any benefit since it was founded 35 years ago.

It has also had three cases in which an initial Atos assessment report led a DWP decision-maker to award the claimant zero points for both daily living and mobility – they need eight points for the standard rate and 12 for the enhanced rate – only for the tribunal to award the claimant the enhanced rate for both elements.

The most outrageous example was that of a claimant who had been awarded zero points after the Atos assessment, only for the tribunal to award them 50 points for daily living and 22 for mobility, while another claimant was awarded 35 points for daily living and 18 for mobility.

Gary Edwards, SARC’s manager, said: “Repeatedly clients tell us and indeed the tribunal panel,  that the written records of the assessment do not accurately  reflect what they actually recall saying to the assessor.”

He said earlier: “The results we have found raise serious questions about the ability of Atos and point to a wider system failure.

“We have real concern about the suitability in terms of professional experience of their assessors: can a physiotherapist or paramedic seriously understand complex mental health issues? Our research suggests this is improbable.”

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  • Mica Hind

    None of the assessors are equipped or prepared to assess Autistic people and their needs. The report on the person I care for was full of lies and half truths, the initial tribunal accepted the report as fact despite our assertion that it was full of lies. The judge (a nototiousTory, well known for upholding DWP decisions according to our WRA rep) cherrypicked statements from the reportand mashed them together with our words in tribunal to refuse us. We are going to the upper tribunal now. They simply do not care how impossible it is for my caree to function in the neurotypical world without a trusted person to help. I have been doing care work for free because of Tory willingness to pass the buck in the name of saving money, while my caree has gone on to develop a neuro-functioning disorder as a result of the stress placed upon her from the drawn out assessment process and the hostility and disbelief she has encountered. Even our GP has been unsympathetic to her ASD. Since when did doctors become so unwilling to support their patients?!

    • Adrian Lowe

      A nurse ( and most of the assessors are nurses apparently) is not qualified to make a diagnosis of anything.

  • Roger Lumley

    Heartening to read this as i am just filling in my form for tribunal, the assessor’s report was far from reflecting the interview

  • Steve Pugh

    I went from 4 to 34 points at tribunal, and yes the assessor had lied.

  • julie white

    It’s not going to help ppl like me who has already had my assessments and been lied about by the assessor and lost my car by a stupid 2 points, I’m now house bound thanks to a very nasty assessor who also wouldn’t listen to me.

    • Gordon Palmer

      Why would it not help you? Have you appealed? If you have and been turned down at the tribunal. It might be worth re-applying.

    • Adrian Lowe

      Appeal (if you haven’t already) or re-apply and make a nuisance …they took my car too and they lied, so did DWP, so I’m waiting for an appeal hearing.

  • Exasperated

    Based on standing still without her stick for 30 seconds, my wife’s assessor determined that she could walk more than 200m without aid & could continue her work as a primary teacher (which she retired from 3 years earlier). Not sure if this was wilful malice or just sheer stupidity. Are they on a bonus to reject people?

    • WalterWall

      I heard they are on a bonus.

      • Adrian Lowe

        they are indeed.There is a similar issue surrounding TV licences even as we speak, the BBC has started an investigation….its a shame that DWP doesn’t do the same. I suggest the know already!

  • Alan Dimond

    I was assessed initially for depression even though I was signed off for ailments pertaining to Brain Surgery, these so called assessors either need more training or assessments on their own abilities to carry out the job they are employed to do

  • Honor

    It is I’ve written this article, is exactly what has happened to me. I have just got my new date for my tribunal as my first one was cancelled due to someone being ill.My husband is going to go for me as the thought of traveling to the venue and talking to stranger’s make me physically I’ll.Because of the extra stress I am now on more tablets (sleeping tabets),my sleep was not that good before the assessment but it has gone even worse.I put a complaint in about the assessor before I got my decision. Capita looked into it twice,i can’t see how they can when they can’t look at the report. My Husband myself and my O.T thought they had sent the wrong report to me because ,it was so different to the true reflection off me.The Dwp were as bad, it was like talking to a recording. Sorry to have been so long winded but it is just a joke how it is ran.They are feeling with vunrerble people.My assessment was done at home.This article gives me some hope that maybe the truth will come out about what is going on.Im Sure the people on the Tribunal Will see this,I hope so.

  • CAROL

    I went for a pip..she lied ..I was very ill and crying layed on the chairs when getting up on my own using a crutch ..I fell over..i had a thin vest on no bra.all my right arm was bare and covered with blood (With anxiety I had scratched all down my arm )…..my arm is still covered in red sores …..i think she wrote that I picked up my hand bag with ease…I did not have an hand bag on the floor….1 hour late she escorted me to the Door..My balance is bad..and while still crying I nearly fell backwards…she made no attemped to help me…She left me sat crying and breaking my heart..I had a very bad lung infection at the Time…I suffer badly with Bronchectasis….Economical with the Truth

  • WalterWall

    I struggle to walk and live in my own down stairs and sleep on the settee so I don’t need to try and climb stairs. Cant bend my knees to get in the bath. I have rheumatoid arthritis which is so bad in my feet,. I am in pain most of the day and do take medication prescribed by my consultant. I cant go far. Have no family to help and am single. Recently had 7 xrays on my shocking feet legs and hands. I retired last year age 61 as I couldn’t manage my manual job which I loved. I was only hoping to receive the lower payment so I can pay someone to help me with my garden and shopping but I was turned down as I can drive prepare my own food and manage to limp around the one room that Im in all day. I know someone with a mildly bad back who gets PIP and everything else. They are 31 and play football with the children in the back garden. These PIP assessors get a bonus for not putting people through Ive heard. I am definitely going to appeal.

  • Paula Young

    I have been out of work for 15 months I have been assessed by the top spinal surgeon who along with a number of specialist doctors agrees that I should be allowed pip I have been turned down 3 times I am waiting for a court date to come through for an appeal I was receiving esa before Christmas I had an assessment with the dwp the lady I saw deemed me fit for work an I should go to the job centre my doctor told me in no circumstances to go there I am in constant pain I sleep in a arm chair as too painful in bed I use a frame to walk and cannot go out on my own I have a carerer who helps with house work and comes shopping with me it is very stressful I have no money coming in we live on my husbands wages which lasts 2-3 days

  • Jennifer Shoesmith

    I was having cancer treatment and being tested for secondary bone cancer when I had my benefit stopped by Atos because he deemed me fit for work. When I went to the Job Centre they said I was not fit for work and sent me for help to appeal. I went from 4 points to 28, but had to go to tribunal.
    I have two friends who have both been severely disabled for many years, one has lost her mobility allowance so now claims more in benefits to live without her car than it was costing the government in mobility – because she cannot work and has a child to support.
    The other has a life long psychiatric condition which had been stabilised by maintaining a sheltered environment. She had been awarded lifelong DLA at the intermediate level 30 years ago and has now been told, at 62, that she is fit for work, having tried repeatedly to do so and been told by psychiatrists that she will never cope with working and was making herself more ill by trying. No doctors were consulted and the report is a total pack of lies, citing abilities she does not have, which were not even assessed; a social life she doesn’t have; motivation which is mostly non existent; and stating that she takes no medication for her claimed condition, when she is on a raft of anti-depressants and anti-psychotic. She also has physical problems, which the report said did not exist! I could go on, but you get the picture! Her condition has deteriorated, and it takes her a year or more to recover, if this situation is not resolved soon she will not be able to continue the fight, even with help!

  • Bunchats

    How about we get up a petition on the government site and get everybody – a million signatures would be good – to sign it and force the government to reassess everybody all over again as there have been so many lies told by assessors about what was said, lies about actual distances involved (50 metres from car park when it was only 18 metres etc etc

    BTW, I think the Disqus involvement through Disability Rights is Very invasive and poor.