The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it cannot guarantee that disabled people who want to have their “fitness for work” tests recorded will be able to do so.
Ministers introduced a new right last year for claimants to have their work capability assessment (WCA) recorded – if a request was made in advance – but only paid for 11 specialist, dual-CD interview recorders to cover the entire country.
The concession was introduced because of complaints that “healthcare professionals” working for Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out the tests for the government, were failing to record accurately the evidence they were given.
But there has been mounting confusion over whether claimants have the right to postpone their WCA if Atos tells them there will be no recording equipment available.
One disabled woman has twice been told by Atos staff that all 11 of the interview recorders were “broken” and that Atos had decided it would no longer offer a recording option.
The Conservative employment minister Chris Grayling promised MPs in February that Atos would “offer everyone who wants it the opportunity to have their session recorded”.
But Atos says on its website that it “cannot postpone an assessment on the basis of audio-recording”.
Grayling increased confusion by telling MPs last week that if recording equipment was not available “clients will be told in advance that their request cannot be accommodated and offered a later date”.
Despite this answer, a DWP spokeswoman has now confirmed to Disability News Service that “although we continue to make reasonable endeavours to accommodate requests for recording assessments, we believe it would be unreasonable to delay the assessment indefinitely for this purpose”.
She said only a “very few people” would not be able to have their WCA recorded, and added: “Atos will make every effort to get your assessment recorded but for a very few people that situation cannot go on indefinitely.
“If there is a particular problem [with arranging the recording equipment] then it may be that you have to proceed with the assessment without recording.”
She said Atos had ordered some new recorders – but could not say how many – and would also borrow equipment usually used by DWP to record interviews in cases of suspected benefit fraud.
She added: “We initially purchased 11 as there were very small numbers who requested recording and on the basis of [a pilot project] the solution seemed reasonable.
“We are now putting in a revised solution but must balance the still very small number of requests with appropriate use of public money which we will continue to evaluate.”
Debbie Jolly, a member of the grassroots campaigning organisation Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC), said that despite the “Chinese whispers” taking place between DWP, Atos and MPs, they all insist that a “very small number” of people request recordings of their WCA.
But she said that early results from a survey launched this week by DPAC and fellow campaigning groups Black Triangle and Social Welfare Union cast huge doubt on this conclusion, with 98 per cent of people who have taken part saying they would like their WCA recorded.
Of those refused a recording, she said, most were not given a reason or an alternative appointment, but were told instead that they would be classed as a “no show” if they didn’t take the original appointment.
They launched the survey because of fears that the government will try to remove the option of recording WCAs completely by claiming there is a lack of demand.
26 July 2012