UPDATE: BECAUSE OF THE NUMBER OF PIP CLAIMANTS WHO HAVE ALREADY BEEN IN TOUCH (MORE THAN 100), PLEASE DO NOT SEND ANY FURTHER POSSIBLE CASES TO DNS. THANKS TO EVERYONE WHO HAS BEEN IN TOUCH. THERE WILL BE A FURTHER UPDATE SOON…
Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating claims of dishonesty in the personal independence payment (PIP) assessment process for the last 18 months.
Now a leading discrimination lawyer has said he may be able to take legal cases on behalf of PIP claimants who believe that the healthcare professionals who carried out their face-to-face assessments did not honestly report the results of those assessments.
The cases would be taken under the Equality Act, but crucially the assessment must have happened in the last six months, for legal reasons.
If there are any PIP claimants who have had an assessment in the last few months and want to consider legal action, please contact DNS – with some brief details of the dishonesty and when it took place – either by phone or email*.
Here’s some background to the DNS investigation…
In November 2016, DNS began an investigation into claims that healthcare professionals who carry out face-to-face assessments of benefit claimants had lied, ignored written evidence and dishonestly reported the results of physical examinations.
The claims involved assessors working for both of the government’s contractors, Capita and Atos.
The alleged dishonesty included assessors: refusing to accept further written evidence from medical experts; wrongly claiming that detailed physical examinations had been carried out during the assessment; refusing to list all of a claimant’s medications; ignoring or misreporting key information told to them during the assessment; and reporting that a claimant had refused to co-operate with a physical examination, when they were unable to complete it because of their impairment.
The first story was published in January 2017 and since then, DNS has compiled claims of dishonesty made by about 300 PIP claimants.
Over the last 18 months, evidence of institutional dishonesty has continued to build, and many of the stories published by DNS have been shocking.
In one case, a nurse carrying out a disability benefit assessment fired questions at a disabled man’s wife while her husband was in the middle of a severe and prolonged series of epileptic seizures just a few feet away, and then failed to mention witnessing the seizures in her assessment report.
In another case, a welfare rights advisor described how at least 30 local benefit claimants with terminal cancer had had their claims rejected in the previous 12 months, with every one of the decisions later overturned by an appeal tribunal.
DNS also reported how secret recordings revealed how a nurse failed to mention a disabled woman’s near-fatal asthma attacks, accidental overdoses and repeated blackouts in yet another dishonest benefits assessment report.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), Capita and Atos, have continued to insist that there is no dishonesty in the assessment process, as the evidence continued to mount.
One PIP claimant told DNS: “When I received the DWP decision, I couldn’t believe what I was reading.
“For example, ‘I was observed to drink from a cup and that I had shown good grip, gripping the assessor’s fingers.’
“I never touched the man, and he never touched me.
“When I finally received the full assessor’s report, I was flabbergasted at the inaccuracies, misinformation and at worst, blatant fabrication.
“Even general information, about my home, layout of my home, aids in my home and aids that weren’t even in my home, were reported as fact. It was completely made up, even the type of clothing I wear.”
Another PIP claimant wrote on the DNS Facebook page how she had broken down and cried three times at her assessment, how her husband helped with her notes, how she was unable to answer many of the questions because she was so exhausted and distressed, how she had to wear dark glasses during the assessment because the light was too bright, and how she had only looked at the assessor once.
But she said: “She wrote in her report that I coped well, had good eye contact, didn’t appear anxious or distressed, answered all the questions unprompted and well.
“She lied about almost every single aspect of the assessment.
“Now I’ve lost my car (my independence) and will have to fight this at a tribunal, which I’m dreading.”
Since the investigation began, many claimants have expressed a wish to take legal action against the assessment companies because of the harm that was caused to them and the discrimination they believe they faced.
There was some hope when a court ruled last year that a disabled woman should be awarded £5,000 compensation by Atos, after a dishonest report by one of its assessors led to her being awarded the wrong level of benefits, but Atos had failed to offer a defence to her claim for damages and is now challenging the court’s ruling.
And there was fresh hope when solicitor Daniel Donaldson announced earlier this month that he was taking a case against DWP in the Scottish courts for allegedly discriminating against him in the way it dealt with his PIP claim.
DNS has now been in touch with a leading London-based lawyer, who has offered to consider cases of PIP claimants who allege dishonesty by their assessors to see if there is a way to take legal action against Atos or Capita under the Equality Act.
*If you’re interested in potentially taking a legal case, contact DNS editor John Pring by phone (weekdays only, please: 01635 228907) or email: [email protected]