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Audio anywhere: Benefit assessors can use their own laptop computers to create audio recordings of work capability assessments. They can then use onboard software to burn a CD of the interview and hand it to claimants on the spot. What’s the problem?

Watch (and more importantly, listen to) the following:

It is unreasonable that the Tories are still claiming benefit assessments may only be recorded in an extremely limited way after so many years.

Oh, you think this issue has only just arisen?

I was producing articles about it in 2013!

Does anybody remember Mark Hoban?

If not, it’s hardly surprising. He was a Tory MP between 2001-2015 and the Minister of State for Employment who had to answer questions from Labour’s Sheila Gilmore on the recording of Work Capability Assessments by Atos (as it was then known) for Employment and Support Allowance in June 2013. I know ESA is not the same as PIP but the assessment system might as well be – certainly when it comes to the issue of recording the assessments.

I reported on the situation prior to those questions being asked, in June 2013 – when even the hated Atos stated: “Our recommendation would be that recording should become routine as it is in a call centre or for example – NHS direct.”

I wrote: “Ms Gilmore goes on to attack the government’s claim that the number of claimants requesting a copy of their recording is just one per cent. This cannot be regarded as an accurate assessment of the number who would like a copy, for two reasons, she tells us.

“Firstly, the assessors used handheld devices to make their recordings, meaning they would have to be transferred to computer and burnt to CD afterwards, preventing claimants from taking recordings away with them on the day. Instead they had to make a further request – in writing. “Unsurprisingly this suppressed uptake,” Ms Gilmore’s speech states.

“Secondly, claimants were warned off applying for copies by assessors who told them recordings would only be useful to them if they appealed. The report that stated only one per cent of claimants persisted in their request was completed only days after the pilot study ended, meaning most of those involved had not received a decision on their claim and therefore did not know whether they needed to appeal. Demand may well have been higher, had the measurement been taken after a reasonable time.

“This is just one example of the DWP timing processes in order to get its way.

“[Ministers] also stated that the DWP would offer “everyone who wants it” the opportunity to have their assessment recorded. In practice, this seems an empty promise, as Atos had around 50 audio recording machines on May 22 [2013], but undertakes more than 11,000 assessments every week.”

Under questioning, Mr Hoban said, “I do not think that it was that difficult to get hold of [a recording of an assessment]. The recording might need to be held on a handheld device before it is transferred to a computer and a transcript is printed, but that does not stop people asking for a copy.”

I pointed out, in my article after the Parliamentary session: “This is inaccurate. For those who have never attended a work capability assessment, the Atos assessors complete them using laptop computers – because the assessment is a tick-box test that demands simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answers. Laptops generally come with not only audio recording but also CD burning programs as part of the package, and even if they don’t, freeware recording software is widely available and CD-burning software is also available, if not for free, then for a reasonable price. If the onboard microphones aren’t adequate to the task, it is possible to buy them very cheaply – especially if buying in bulk.

In short, it should be entirely possible to record every single assessment at a reasonably high quality, burn it onto CD and hand it to claimants on the spot.

Now, four years later – to quote the desperate Theresa May: Nothing has changed.

If anything, the quality of recording software is much better.

So there can only be one reason the DWP is clinging to its demand for people to use “expensive specialist devices that claimants must provide themselves”?

That is: To put people off recording assessments so the DWP may lie about their findings and push people, who deserve the benefit, off it.

There can be no other reason.

A response to a Freedom of Information request (read the story here) shows that four out of five requests for mandatory reconsideration of benefit refusals – the first stage in the appeal process that the DWP deliberately lengthened in order to make appeals more difficult for cash-strapped claimants to endure – supports this assertion.

It is easier to refuse an appeal when there is no recording to show where assessors have lied.

So, despite having claimed they have no targets for benefit refusal since taking office in 2010, the Conservatives are proved to have been lying.

In summary:

There is no physical reason for claimants to be denied recordings of their benefit assessments.

The only reason the DWP can possibly have for doing so is to deny claimants a decent hearing at benefit appeals.

The only reason the DWP would want to do this is to hide the fact that the assessors hired from private firms to do this work are lying about the information they receive.

And the only reason they would lie is because they have been told to refuse benefits to a significant number of claimants – whether they deserve them or not – and this is the only way to meet their target.

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