A disabled woman who repeatedly spoke about her thoughts of suicide during an assessment had her disability benefits removed after the assessor lied to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) about what she had heard, a recording shows.
The woman, Diane*, who has been under the care of a psychiatrist for more than two decades, secretly recorded last November’s face-to-face assessment, which was carried out by an occupational therapist working for the outsourcing giant Capita.
Despite Diane later telling DWP what had happened in detail, explaining her concerns about the assessment, and reminding the department that she had had years of treatment for significant mental distress, a civil servant dismissed her account and confirmed the decision to remove her entitlement to personal independence payment (PIP).
It is the latest evidence that DWP’s disability benefits system poses a significant risk to the safety of disabled people claiming benefits, particularly those experiencing mental distress, and that the department itself is not fit for purpose.
And it will add weight to calls – through the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition – for the department to take urgent measures to make the safety of claimants a priority, for MPs to acknowledge that DWP is not fit for purpose, and for them to call for an independent inquiry into links between its actions and the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
Only last week, DWP faced fresh allegations of negligence after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.
Diane has told Disability News Service (DNS) that her experience convinced her that the assessment process was “utterly broken and unfit for purpose”.
On the recording, Diane tells the occupational therapist who carried out the assessment several times that she is currently struggling with suicidal thoughts.
But the assessor, in a report subsequently sent to DWP, concluded: “They deny any current thoughts of suicide and/or self-harm.”
And despite Diane – and her husband, who had accompanied her – describing her paranoid delusions, hallucinations, psychosis, extreme levels of anxiety and suicidal depression, the assessor told DWP in her report: “She denies experiencing any thought disorders or perceptions.”
There were many other blatant inaccuracies in the report.
A month after the assessment, her mental health further damaged by the assessment process, Diane attempted to take her own life.
Three weeks later, on 6 January, as a result of the assessment report, DWP removed Diane’s eligibility for PIP, which she had previously received at the daily living enhanced rate.
She was admitted to hospital again later that month, after her husband began the process of seeking a mandatory reconsideration of the decision.
But when she told DWP about the dishonest assessment report, a civil servant confirmed the decision to remove her PIP and told her that assessors have “nothing to gain by fabricating evidence or suppressing information and will invariably report what they observe and what they are told at the assessment.”
The civil servant added: “The available evidence indicates there is no significant degree of impairment.”
Diane contacted DNS about her experience after reading about the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, which asks MPs to: brand DWP not fit for purpose and disablist; call for the department to take urgent action to make the safety of benefit claimants a priority; and demand an inquiry into DWP’s links with numerous deaths.
The petition** has been backed by the families of seven disabled people who have died in cases linked to DWP, as well as four grassroots groups of disabled people – Black Triangle, Disabled People Against Cuts, Mental Health Resistance Network and WOWcampaign – and DNS.
After being contacted about Diane’s case by DNS, a Capita spokesperson refused to say if the company accepted that the assessment report was negligent or dishonest, or if Diane’s experience showed it was putting the safety of claimants at risk and that DWP was not fit for purpose.
But she said in a statement: “We are committed to delivering a high quality and empathetic service for people applying for PIP.
“We operate a robust complaints process for anyone that is unhappy with the service provided, including escalating the complaint to the DWP should a customer feel it has not been satisfactorily resolved.
“We are looking into this case.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We want everyone to have a good experience at their PIP assessment and we have asked our assessment provider to look at [Diane’s] PIP claim to ensure she is getting the full support she’s entitled to.”
But she declined to say if DWP believed the assessment report was dishonest or negligent, or if the case showed again that the department was not fit for purpose and was putting the safety of claimants at risk.
Diane said: “This case is truly representative of how broken the PIP system is all across the UK, with so many cases getting overturned at appeal.
“It is totally unfair to discriminate in this way against disabled people, who also may not be as able to stand up for their rights.
“The DWP are making disabled people even more ill and in quite a few tragic cases killing disabled people.
“I very nearly became one of the statistics in December 2018.
“The stress of PIP has added to an already huge burden of pressures. I was admitted to hospital again in January suicidal.
“The wider cost to society of these PIP appeals is far more than any cost savings projected by the government.”
*Not her real name
**To sign the Justice for Jodey Whiting petition, visit parliament’s petitions website . If you sign it, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee