A disabled woman who raised concerns that her benefits assessment was set to be based on a report that was a quarter of a century old had her claim closed after a government contractor described her as “aggressive” and “non-compliant”.
The woman, Mary*, from Northern Ireland, secretly recorded the face-to-face assessment, which showed her raising concerns about Capita’s intention to complete a report on her personal independence payment (PIP) claim without waiting for up-to-date evidence from her GP.
But although she did raise concerns during the 30-minute meeting, the recording shows her remaining calm and polite – although firm – and apologising to her assessor if she felt offended by her criticisms of Capita and the PIP system.
The assessor, a nurse, stressed that she had not been offended, and could be heard telling a manager on the phone that there appeared to have been “quite a lot of significant changes to [Mary’s] medical conditions” since the 1994 report.
She also told Mary that she was not being unreasonable in raising concerns about such an old report being used as evidence of her PIP eligibility.
Mary has been claiming disability living allowance (DLA) for more than 25 years, but her health has deteriorated in recent years, and she has also survived stage three breast cancer since the 1994 DLA report.
The nurse can be heard on the recording repeatedly telling Mary (and her husband) that she would have to base her assessment report only on Mary’s self-completed PIP form, the assessor’s report on the face-to-face assessment and the 1994 DLA report, and advising her to postpone the assessment until Capita received the GP’s report.
After Mary agreed to the postponement, and despite the nurse’s comments, Capita subsequently told Mary it had decided to close her file, claiming she had been “aggressive and non-compliant” during the assessment.
Mary – who carried out advice and tribunal work for more than 20 years – was appalled when she found out her claim had been closed, because she had been assured that she would have another face-to-face assessment once her GP report arrived.
She has now lodged a complaint with Capita.
Mary said she believed Capita had behaved in a “dishonest manner” and that there was a “hidden agenda to get claimants off PIP”.
She said Capita was “quite clearly in breach of the legislation” by trying to use a 25-year-old report to decide her eligibility.
She said: “I wonder how often this has happened. How on earth are they getting away with this shameful practice?”
Mary said she would like to see GPs paid to decide PIP eligibility.
She said: “The PIP system is flawed. No account is taken of medical conditions. They are not interested.
“Assessments are cruel and degrading, where you have to prove you are unwell even when they have medical reports.”
She said the PIP system in Northern Ireland was “awful”, and because the devolved Northern Ireland Assembly was still not operating, there was “no-one to turn to”.
Mary’s case is the latest example of apparent serious malpractice by the companies employed to carry out PIP assessments across the UK, and it appears to provide further confirmation of such concerns in Northern Ireland.
It also raises fresh concerns about how the assessment companies react when disabled claimants complain about how they are being treated by the system.
In November, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how Atos, the other discredited company contracted to carry out the assessments, threatened to call the police after a claimant asked about the mental health qualifications of the nurse who was assessing his eligibility for PIP.
Following Mary’s concerns and questions raised by DNS, Northern Ireland’s Department for Communities (DfC) sent her case back to Capita to reconsider its decision, and either arrange another face-to-face assessment or carry out an assessment based only on paperwork.
A Capita spokesperson refused to say how it justified its treatment of Mary and misreporting what happened in her assessment, or to say if it would apologise to her.
But she said in a statement: “Our trained disability assessors are committed to delivering an empathetic and efficient service for the people of Northern Ireland and follow a strict code of practice.
“We are currently processing this case to complete the assessment.”
A DfC spokesperson refused to answer questions or comment on the case.
*Not her real name
Picture: Senior executives from Capita and Atos giving evidence to MPs about PIP in 2017
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