Dear Department for Work and Pensions,
As a background to this request - so you don't try and pass this off as an isolated incident - I have been on the receiving end of the DWP's anti-disability abuse for more than half a decade now and, as such, have networked with thousands of other disabled people across the UK over the years who are being subjected to the same level of oppression and worse (and I stay up to date on disability issues through various disability and rights media and organisations, too). We share our experience and try and help each other. This involves sharing documentation, so I have personally seen factual evidence of the following abuse.
Bearing the above in mind, I'd like to know what the DWP position is on your private assessment contractors sending out grossly inappropriate appointment letters for assessments? People who are housebound, for example, given appointments for assessment centres with no disabled access 20 or more miles away from the claimant's home, and so on. I have yet to meet ONE SINGLE claimant who was ever given an appropriate appointment first time (and there are multiple instances of this PER CLAIMANT for both ESA and PIP, as claimants are put through the revolving door of constant annual assessments). Not one. This often applies to second appointments, too.
When challenged on this distressing and abusive behaviour, Atos, Capita, Maximus, et al, reply through their 'Customer Service' department that they are sorry, it was a glitch, and a computer-generated letter was sent out by mistake. This statement is clearly untrue; the facts support their systems having been designed in this way on purpose or this would happen on only a few occasions across the board, and perhaps once per claimant - if that.
It has happened to me EVERY SINGLE TIME I have been sent an appointment letter for both ESA and PIP. Indeed, if a replacement appointment is then sent out, it is usually just as impossible to get to and the fight for an appropriate appointment must then ensue ( a fight is the last thing vulnerable claimants can cope with and it usually makes them more ill before the assessment has even taken place*).
As the DWP includes on its forms a specific area in which to state any special needs, times and dates that can't be made, type of assessment needed, and so on, what effort has been made by the DWP to ensure that the companies you employ actually read the forms and medical evidence prior to sending out such inappropriate appointments that cause already vulnerable and distressed claimants such anxiety? And what is the point of adding this section if you allow the data it contains to be ignored as a matter of course?
Because this is no simple matter of ringing up the assessment company and correcting them. The opposite is true, in fact. Claimants are threatened with losing their income if they do not get to the appointment given to them, and, should they challenge this unlawful statement, told they can only change it once or their benefit will stop. Could you supply the legislation under which your assessment companies can make such claims?
Furthermore, those able to challenge this behaviour carried out on behalf of the DWP are then made to jump through hoops and provide evidence deemed, by said assessment company, to be good enough (in opinion of the assessment company - although already met in the eyes of the law) to support a home or paper-based assessment. This goes for reassessments during awards, too - and this is very important, as the DWP in all likelihood already has evidence that the claimant has special needs in relation to appointments for reassessments. I am definitely NOT talking solely about new claims. And many of these forms have been completed by disability organisation and other disability experts and professionals, so there is no miscommunication involved: I've seen the evidence and submitted it, myself. The reasonable adjustments are made crystal clear on the form and covering letters.
Given that the Equality Act 2010 states that public bodies should not only comply with a reasonable adjustment for disabled people, but also ANTICIPATE said adjustment, does the DWP think it appropriate that such distressing and unsuitable appointments are sent out to vulnerable claimants as standard by your delegates? If the assessment company can't even be bothered to read the form, at the very least, before sending out an appointment, or worse still, it HAS read the form and then decided to totally ignore the information within, that does not bode well for an honest and impartial assessment - and the claimants know this, which, of course, only adds to their distress, as I'm sure you must agree?
So, what action is the DWP currently taking to address this abuse of claimants? And if the DWP is currently doing nothing about this malpractice, what does it intend to do now, since you have been made aware of this abuse?
Does the DWP think it ought to be highlighting the appointment needs of existing claimants in a separate communication to the assessment company when it sends them the medical evidence and form?
And does the DWP think it is an appropriate use of NHS resources to require a GP or specialist letter regarding home or paper assessments every few months during the course of repeated assessments for multiple benefits? Or should one held on file be sufficient unless a RELEVANT change of circumstance is made (that is, a demonstrable and relevant improvement in the claimant's health)?
Finally, unless it has been changed, it is my understanding of the SSA 1998 that claimant's evidence is to be believed as a matter of course unless the SoS has demonstrable grounds to not do so? This is leaving aside the claimant's rights to reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act 2010. If this is still the case - and please correct me with evidence if I am wrong - then why, after being supplied with a very long and detailed form representing the claimant's statement, as well as medical evidence to back this up, is the DWP allowing its representative assessment companies to routinely treat claimant statements as untrue and override their evidence with regard to appointments?
*Recent reports (commissioned by various bodies), as well as MPs comments in the House, state that assessments have had a negative effect on the mental and/or physical health of most disabled claimants, as do almost all the comments in the online forum you posted last October.
NB - apologies for the use of capital letters. Unfortunately, this site does not allow for emphasis to be placed on words via bold or italic lettering, so I had no choice but to employ the use of capitals.
I also apologise for the amount of addition information supplied with the questions. It was given in an attempt to stave of DWP 'stock' responses and place the questions in context.
I would also be grateful if you could supply the relevant evidence only, rather than bury it in amongst a mass of irrelevant data, as I have issues with brain fog, etc.
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