Disability assessment system ignores evidence and pushes claimants towards death

Hoax: That's how the DWP has described many people's claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

Hoax: That’s how the DWP has described many people’s claims for PIP and ESA. In fact, it seems the assessment system itself is the hoax, and the government department the hoaxer. [Image: Getty Images]

If you have a long-term illness or disability but have wondered why you receive low scores on the government’s face-to-face ‘work capability assessment’, here’s why: The software is written to ensure that any information you provide may be ignored.

That’s right – the tick-box test program that the DWP took from criminal American insurance corporation Unum, which had been devised to make people ineligible for insurance payouts, does not take into account any of the claimant’s personal details.

David Daish, a programmer and software tester, went through the PIP assessment process and then provided his professional opinion on the software to Facebook page Atos Miracles. PIP is the most useful benefit to discuss in this context because the onus is on assessment providers, rather than individual disabled people, to gather evidence from a list of health and social care professionals provided by the claimant.

He wrote: “The software is written so that whatever the assessor writes in the first part of the report, such as history, and anything the claimant tells the assessor, there is nothing whatsoever in the second part, the choosing of descriptors, that is connected to the first part.

“This means nothing is built into the programming to make sure the assessor uses all the evidence that was (hopefully) collected, or was provided elsewhere, and then can subsequently make the right descriptor choice.

“The assessor can basically say anything they like. Nothing in the software forces them carry out the assessment fairly.” [bolding mine]

He went on to describe the software as “little more than a glorified Word document: “A piece of programming that is not integrated in any way, has no checks and balances to make sure the business process it is supposed to support works as it should, that is, the PIP assessment itself, is in my view unforgivable. I’m inclined to think it is deliberate.”

That is a perfectly logical conclusion to draw.

This would suggest that the increased stress, the despair and hopelessness instilled in claimants by the loss of their benefit for no good reason, and the subsequent loss of life through suicide or exacerbation of the health conditions that the assessment system insists do not exist, are also deliberate.

It also makes sense of the apparently-illogical decisions being thrown out by the system all the time. Citizens Advice has stated: “Both Atos and Capita [PIP assessment providers] have made snap decisions about whether PIP claimants must attend a face-to-face assessment. Even when they do request evidence, providers only need to tell claimants who they have asked for it – not whether they actually received any or what it said.”

It seems that any such evidence would be ignored by the assessment software in any case, so it should come as no surprise that Citizens Advice continued: “In the absence of additional evidence, an astonishing 98 per cent of all assessments have been face-to-face… This is adding substantially to the delays and financial hardship experienced by disabled people.

“We now have two different systems for gathering independent evidence in PIP and in ESA, neither of which is working for claimants, assessment providers or the DWP.”

As someone with only limited knowledge of computer programmer, it is probably not for This Writer to comment. But my own knowledge suggests that a teenager from the 1980s could have produced a better program, using BASIC, than Unum and the DWP have managed here. A series of simple ‘IF… THEN’ loops would have ensured that all relevant information was taken into account.

Perhaps this is what we should do.

I don’t mean we should write a BASIC program to show up the inadequacies of PIPAT (the actual assessment system) – rather we should endeavour to produce our own program that performs in the way the public has been led to believe PIPAT does. Then we could run a few assessments through it (the DWP must provide full details of assessments and outcomes if these are requested, so they won’t be hard to acquire) and compare the results.

Is that a reasonable suggestion?

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  1. random bloke July 28, 2015 at 12:13 pm - Reply

    The only “hoax” is the so called “special rules” in place for terminal/critically ill patients.
    I have seen people close to me with terminal diagnosis pass away before getting anything they applied for.

  2. Norma Roberts July 28, 2015 at 12:14 pm - Reply

    Or, just tell them you want the assessment recorded, then what you said at the beginning of the assessment is not “lost”. I had my WCA recorded, I got a copy (given to me straight after the assessment) and they keep a copy, therefore there can be no doubt as to what was said throughout the interview. This will ensure that whatever they put down/decide, and whatever score they give you, will have to bear testament to what you actually said.

    • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 5:51 pm - Reply

      Have they got enough recorders, now, to make this viable? I wrote a few articles a couple of years ago when they didn’t.

      • foggy July 28, 2015 at 9:12 pm - Reply

        Any claimant can request that their WCA is recorded. If the equipment is not available they (the assessing company) should reschedule the appointment until it is available. If the assessing company reschedules the app it will not be classed as a cancelled app.

        A claimant can’t request that their PIP assessment be recorded. This is one thing the crafty gits have sneaked through with this (CAPITA did offer this facility but McVey said NO!) BUT……… a claimant can put it in writing that they will record their PIP assessment to the DWP. The claimant will then have to provide 2 exact copies of the assessment. This can be easily done with X2 tape cassette recorders and is presently being done by a huge amount of PIP claimants.(It’s in the DWP PIP regs to allow a claimant to do this) As long as you inform the DWP in writing that you will be recording the assessment and providing the equipment to do so then they can’t do anything apart from delay/postpone the assessment until they find an assessor willing to be recorded !

        Don’t take any chances………..get it recorded, for both ESA & PIP !

        • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 10:09 pm - Reply

          Thanks for clearing that up!

      • James Kemp July 28, 2015 at 11:22 pm - Reply

        The problem with requesting recording your test is they lose the request so you ask for another and guess what no recorder available.

        If you now ask again for another date and the recorder they tell you they will say you refused to sit the test so automatic 0 points and no benefit so you have to secretly record it, yes i know it’s not able to be used in appeals. This was back with ATOS but i don’t see any of them change…. Luckily i did get high rate but not without a long fight.

        • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 11:48 pm - Reply

          You have to send all post to the DWP by registered mail/recorded delivery/whatever they call it these days. Then they can’t say it’s been lost – or if it is lost internally, that’s their problem, not yours.

      • JohnDee July 29, 2015 at 10:41 am - Reply

        “Proof of Postage” is free on request when handing it to a Post Office employee.

        • Mike Sivier July 29, 2015 at 4:07 pm - Reply

          Yeah, but people need proof of receipt.

  3. Jeffery Davies July 28, 2015 at 12:30 pm - Reply

    Read mo stewarts reports this all started when unum got involved with government jeff3

    • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 5:49 pm - Reply

      I’m very familiar with Mo’s excellent work.

      • Mo Stewart July 29, 2015 at 5:55 pm - Reply

        Thanks guys. I think there is some confusion in this piece. It was Atos who designed the software not Unum.

        Unum advised on using the BPS model of assessment which was transformed into the WCA.

        • Mike Sivier July 29, 2015 at 9:12 pm - Reply

          Thanks, Mo.
          So Unum advised on how BPS could be used in an assessment and Atos designed the software, based on that?

  4. ian725 July 28, 2015 at 4:17 pm - Reply

    Wow! Mike amazing information , well done the suggestion is a great idea . Can it be implemented?

    • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 5:48 pm - Reply

      I don’t know – that’s why I put it out there.

  5. alison July 28, 2015 at 8:51 pm - Reply

    I already have two versions of your proposed software planned out.

    Humane version
    IF Doctor says ‘too ill to work’ THEN deploy money. and review 2 yearly
    IF Doctor says ‘too ill to work ever’ THEN deploy money and do not waste time reviewing

    Govt version
    IF poor THEN laugh maniacally
    UNTIL rich OR UNTIL dead

    • Mike Sivier July 28, 2015 at 10:14 pm - Reply

      There’s already a government version so I say let’s run with the humane version.
      When can you have a workable work capability assessment, lasting around an hour, ready? :-)

  6. Stephen Bee July 28, 2015 at 10:28 pm - Reply

    Maybe a copy of this info could/should be sent to Frank Field chair of the welfare assessment committee..c.c to Debbie Abrahms..etc??

  7. Chris Otter July 29, 2015 at 12:09 am - Reply

    What if the face-to-face assessment is carried out in your home – do you still have to notify them in advance that you’ll be recording it? Seeing as it’s your home, you can do as you wish, can you not? I would imagine you don’t even have to tell them, would you?

    • Mike Sivier July 29, 2015 at 8:08 am - Reply

      If you wanted to be able to use the recording as evidence in future, I think you’d have to notify them in advance. Same principle as when a telephone conversation is recorded.

  8. JohnDee July 29, 2015 at 12:19 am - Reply

    As I understood it, the recording had to be made on a DWP approved dual cassette or dual CD deck so’s you were obliged to give the DWP a copy of the recording at the end of the interview. (Who’s likely to have those?)

    This precluded the convenience of using a smart phone or dicta-phone.

    Here’s part of the result of an FOI enquiry about this (2013).


    “If you wish to use your own equipment you must
    be able to provide a complete and identical
    copy of the recording to the healthcare professional at the end of the assessment. It should be in CD or audio cassette format only. Mobile phones are not suitable for this purpose

    See also:

    “…Approved media at present are standard CD and audio tapes only. Certain computing devices that are capable of real-time editing or live-streaming are not approved, nor are devices which cannot provide a media copy that can be easily verified straight after the assessment. These include but are not limited to;
    •PCs and laptops,
    •Tablets and smart phones,
    •MP3 players

    Also, note:

    “Should you record DWP phone calls?

    If you ask for a reconsideration of the decision about your ESA and the decision maker cannot change the decision in your favour, they will telephone you.

    The decision maker will try 2 or 3 times to contact you. If they are not able to make contact they will carry out the reconsideration without any further evidence, unless you have already told them that you will be sending some…

    … However, you should be aware that what you say in this phone call may be used as evidence in the mandatory reconsideration and may form part of the evidence used by the DWP if you appeal the decision following the reconsideration.

    Does anyone know of any more up-to-date information? TIA

  9. George Berger July 29, 2015 at 5:28 am - Reply

    Mike, I read one of the WCA computer manuals for the LIMA programme. The expert is spot on. The verbal evidence and the descriptor answers are separate. Nothing compels the final Decision Maker to use that person’s evidence and other statements. Also,a Decision Maker is often no doctor That implies that they cannot evaluate many evidential statements. They can only look at the descriptor responses. A set up if ever I saw one.

    • JohnDee July 29, 2015 at 10:07 am - Reply

      From what I remember reading about these assessments, the computer program offers the assessor (sic) a supply of stock phrases with which to insert into the report, for a summary of each section or question, so it really doesn’t matter what the claimant actually says.

      Of course, most of these stock phrases are designed to disadvantage the claimant and minimize their claim – so making it much easier for the DWP to deny any benefits, for the least effort.

      ‘Same idea with the ESA50 claim form (for claiming Employment [sic] Support Allowance) that gives you multiple choice answers (clue – use the additional notes box to more accurately explain your true situation / health issues).

  10. sally July 29, 2015 at 4:40 pm - Reply

    In one ESA assessment the assessor asked me about pain; he said ‘so, you have pain (named a specific body location)’ -whilst clicking in the LIMA answer box. I corrected his assumption and asked forthrightly for him to change the input in the program field he’d clicked before I answered. Another claimant who wasn’t sitting in view of the screen or who hadn’t noticed, might not have caught that sleight-of-hand.

    An excellent blog by a woman who used to work for UNUM gives startling insight about UNUM’s carpet bag of tricks used to deny valid insurance claims. A must-read treasure chest of info.
    Some of these tactics are now being reported by claimants being assessed by Maximus e. g. avoiding or ignoring claimant’s references or comments about pain, not recording claimant’s responses to questions that would assess them as validly disabled, and so on.

  11. foggy July 29, 2015 at 11:17 pm - Reply

    ‘Some of these tactics are now being reported by claimants being assessed by Maximus e. g. avoiding or ignoring claimant’s references or comments about pain, not recording claimant’s responses to questions that would assess them as validly disabled, and so on.’

    This is why it’s important to get the assessment recorded.
    1; Assessors tend to behave when it’s being recorded and outcomes have been noted to be significantly different…in English, no lies or missing statements in the report.

    2, If you’ve got it recorded you can then get the assessment transcribed verbatim and send it in to the DWP immediately after the assessment so as they can add it to your file and any discrepancies in the assessors report would be rebuked by the transcript – your proof !

    Have a look online, there’s thorough ‘checklists and survivors guides to assessments’ to help claimants through the process before it actually happens, during and after. I can signpost to these if anyone needs them but please – get any assessment recorded !

  12. mrmarcpc July 30, 2015 at 5:59 pm - Reply

    This should come as no surprise, they will think of any devious tactic that they can to stop you receiving the help that you deservedly and desperately need!

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