Benefits department accused of deliberately misleading select committee and GPs

Shock? Horror? No, not really. A government department is misleading people, including an official committee and doctors.

No surprise there, as far as I am concerned, the UK government’s Department for Work and Pensions has a hit and miss attitude to honesty. It may not ‘lie’ but is certainly happy to ‘mislead’.

Again and again, the DWP has defended criticism of Personal Independence Payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessment systems. That’s fine, it is entitled to do that, as long as it does so truthfully and honestly. But it is misleading to claim that more than 90% of claimants are happy with their experience.


Photo: The Independent

This claim even deceived the House of Commons Work and Pensions Select Committee. While the committee criticised PIP assessments, its members were taken in by the DWP’s figures. The committee said it accepted that ‘The PIP and ESA assessment processes function satisfactorily for the majority of claimants’.

Now, though, the campaigning organisation Benefits and Work has revealed that PIP feedback is based on around 1% of claimants being asked just one single question: “How satisfied were you with your overall experience with Capita / Independent Assessment Service’.”

On its website, it says: “In most cases the claimant is phoned by a Capita or Atos (IAS) employee and asked this question. Occasionally they are written to instead.”

This way of gathering customer feedback is flawed. Those asked for their opinion know that it is not given anonymously. Additionally, they could feel that a critical response may affect assessments of their claims.

No questions asked about accuracy

misleadingWhile a question is asked their ‘overall experience’, there are no questions about the accuracy of the assessment report or whether any additional evidence was considered. I find that strange, if not downright peculiar, because those are the areas about which most claimants’ criticisms are levelled.

Not content with misleading a parliamentary committee, the DWP is misleading general practitioners (GPs) into not issuing sick notes to ESA claimants appealing a decision.

Benefits and Work says:

Claimants who challenge a fit for work decision cannot claim ESA during the mandatory reconsideration stage. They may be able to claim JSA, but many claimants don’t for fear of sanctions.

However, if the mandatory reconsideration is unsuccessful, claimants can then lodge an appeal and reclaim ESA whilst waiting for their case to be heard.

But the DWP has changed the letters that it sends out to GPs when a claimant is found fit for work. The letters tell the GP not to issue any more sick notes and no longer say they can do so if the claimant appeals the decision.

The result, as legal advice charity Zacchaeus 2000 Trust discovered, is claimants going hungry because they have no money for food. Claimants may also have to change to a new GP practice to try to find a doctor who will issue them with a sick note.

The DWP has offered no explanation whatsoever for the change in the wording of the letter, except that it was altered as a result of a ‘ministerial requirement’.

That it is a ministerial requirement that claimants be caused as much suffering as possible, regardless of the law, will probably come as no surprise to our readers.

I must say, I agree. How can any government department set out to deliberately mislead and ultimately deceive? It is disgusting and needs to stop now.

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* * * * * is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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Note: Health-related information available on 50shadesofsun website is for your general knowledge only. It is not a substitute for medical advice or treatment for specific medical conditions. I am not a doctor and cannot and do not give you medical advice. You should seek prompt medical care for any specific health issues. Also, consult a doctor before starting a new diet or exercise programme. Any opinions expressed are purely my own unless otherwise stated.


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