People are being watched from windows and not assessed properly – leading campaigners say
Since the Conservative Government switched from Disability Living Allowance (DLA) to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in 2013 – thousands of people have been re-assessed – and refused much needed benefits.
But these tests, designed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) – and carried out by private firms – are being now brought into question over the ‘walking’ element.
Assessors for French data firm ATOS, and British business Capita must establish whether the claimant can walk 20m unaided, among other daily tasks, according to DWP rules.
But, experts told Express.co.uk they believe assessors are watching disabled people from the window of assessment centres and cynically ticking off the mobility criteria – without the person even knowing, or having the chance to be questioned on it.
If such practice is being carried out the assessors are failing to provide the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) with the right information to assess a claim.
However, both have argued they are carrying out tests and following rules SET by the DWP.
Under the “reliability criteria” assessors MUST establish whether or not the 20m can be undertaken EVERY DAY and under varying conditions.
Instead, at assessment centres “informal observations” are being carried out which campaigners say cannot possibly meet what is set out in legislation.
Vital information which is often unknown – is the claimant must be asked if they can ALWAYS walk the distance required.
If they cannot walk it in all conditions, meeting all the criteria – it must be considered they can NEVER compete the task.
Renowned disability campaigner Baroness Thomas of Winchester faced her own battle with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and won.
Those carrying out assessments have been accused of failing on "reliability criteria"
Fighting for the rights of disabled people the peer in the House of Lords said the four vital “reliability criteria” she had inserted, along with Lib Dem MP Steve Webb, are being IGNORED at assessment centres run by Atos and Capita.
“What I got inserted into the legislation was that the four reliability criteria had to be more than just guidance,” said Baroness Thomas.
“The four are, in the case of the Moving Around distance, that the claimant had to be able to walk the distance, even 20 metres, ‘safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period’”.
“The Government made those criteria mandatory.”
However, the DWP claims their tests carried out by contractors ask certain questions which CAN establish someone's abilities every other day.
A spokeswoman said they do not look at a "snapshot" of someone's life – despite some assessments lasting FORTY MINUTES.
In comparison, social care assessments which establish needs of the elderly and disbaled, by local councils' social services department, can take DAYS.
Baroness Thomas said: “The Government have said that if a person can walk that distance on some days but not other days, then they must be deemed not to be able to do the distance according to the criteria.”
In a PIP assessment a person is only required to be able to walk 20 metres unaided, just two bus lengths.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester is a leading disability campaigner
This was originally set at 50 but changed suddenly in what was considered to be a senseless money-saving tactic.
Baroness Thomas said: “This was obviously going to save the DWP a lot of money and mean that a lot of higher rate DLA claimants would lose the higher rate PIP and thus not be eligible for the Motability car.”
When the Government published the PIP regulations, they suddenly changed the original 50metre guideline.
Baroness Thomas said: “My point is that the walking evaluation must be an outside test, and must take account of weather conditions, state of the pavement, crowds, dropped kerbs, even if we’re only talking about walking 20 metres.”
Firms like Atos and Capita have banked more than £500m in taxpayer cash through the DWP contracts.
But since taking the DWP contract for PIP assessment in 2013 elderly, infirm and disabled people have been forced into “unfair” re-assessments which leave them anxious and sometimes penniless, campaigners say.
Wheelchair using UKIP councillor and disability spokeswoman Star Anderton, 45, was also forced to go back for assessment.
Assessors have been accused of watching disabled people from windows and marking off walking test
She claims it is a common that, people are considered completely able to meet the criteria, if they can walk the required distance just ONCE.
She said: “So many people say that’s what happens. They go for assessment and it is basically assumed if they can do that distance once, they can do it all the time.
“That’s the opposite of the Government guidance
“They might be able to do it every now and again.”
Ms Anderson who campaigns on behalf of other disabled people said the reliability criteria IS mentioned in forms by Atos and Capita.
“The reliability criteria was quickly inserted after the boundary changes from 50m to 20m,” she said.
“Even though it’s in all your forms – they don’t take any notice at the assessment centre.
“The criteria isn’t being adhered to.
“It is as if all they want is to put everybody on standard rate and try and get the figures down.”
Atos has repeatedly denied such claims but campaigners have accused them of rewarding staff who bring down the number of claimants on the DWP.
The company told Express.co.uk they carry out testing as advised by the DWP and do not deviate from the set test – which they carry out and pass back to the DWP for a decision.
Capita mirrored this statement.
But people who had been for DWP assessment with Atos and Capita said they were not asked whether they could walk the required distance “safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period”.
In fact, when their assessment information was returned from the DWP it said they were “informally observed”.
Meet the cast from Benefits Street series two Tue, May 12, 2015
Channel 4's smash hit documentary Benefits Street is back for a second series. This time, the programme follows the residents of Kingston Road in Stockton-On-Tees.
Play slideshow Channel 4 1 of 8
Single mother of six Julie and her best friend Sue
Express.co.uk recently revealed as many as 800 people per week are being stripped of their benefits, or the higher rate, leaving them too ill too work and too afraid to fight the decision in court.
One woman who found out about the “reliability criteria” wrote about it in her appeal after losing all her disability benefits.
Despite having kidney failure and being hospitalised three times per week for treatment, the retired grandmother who worked for more than three decades, had benefits revoked after her PIP assessment.
After pointing out, under the reliability criteria, she could not carry out the required distance “safely, to an acceptable standard, repeatedly and in a reasonable time period” her benefits were restored.
“I’ve never been given points for mobility before and now I have,” she said.
“It’s nothing but a trick. I was never asked those questions, I was asked ‘can you walk that far?’ and yes on a good day I can.
“The DWP doesn’t care who you are or what your problems are – you are a number and they want a smaller number.”
- Daughter says the DWP sanctioned her father to death
- Sturgeon humiliated, 'you've failed a whole generation' says Davidson
- Chuka Umunna and IDS have shouting match about £350m NHS pledge
Atos has published information about the criteria online, but campaigners say testers do not stick to the guidelines.
It states: “The ‘reliability’ criteria must be considered for each activity and will be considered as an integral part of the information-gathering process whether at a face-to-face consultation or during a paper-based review.”
An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: "As one of the suppliers to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – we undertake every assessment in strict accordance with the Department for Work and Pensions PIP assessment guide.
"The reliability criteria are central to that process and all our Health Professionals are fully trained in their use and application. This includes assessment for mobility for which an assessment of an individual’s ability to walk takes full account of the criteria without exception.
"We ensure the standards of our reports are maintained in line with all criteria set by the DWP and the process is further strengthened by an independent audit process which reports to the DWP.”
Disability campaigner Star Anderton has fought Atos after being re-assessed
A Capita spokesperson said: “The DWP, not Capita, makes the decisions on whether to award a benefit or not and the level and length of those awards.
“Assessments are taken into consideration by the DWP alongside all other evidence submitted by a claimant and assessors are trained to understand when and where informal observations may be used in line with DWP guidance.”
A Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) spokesperson defended the use of ‘informal observations, claiming they were important to the assessment process.
They are used “alongside the healthcare professional’s own assessment, the claimant questionnaire and any other evidence” it was claimed.
The spokeswoman said: “We expect the highest standards from the contractors who carry out Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments, and work closely with them to ensure PIP is working in the best way possible.
“Decisions for PIP are made after considering all the information provided by the claimant, including any supporting evidence from their GP or medical specialist, and anyone who disagrees with a decision can appeal.”