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9 shocking errors made in assessments for PIP and ESA by Capita, Atos and Maximus

The Work and Pensions Select Committee received nearly 4,000 submissions – the most by a select committee inquiry – after calling for evidence on the assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

The MPs said: “We were so impressed and moved by the response we are today publishing a collection of just a few of the thousands of stories claimants shared with us.”

The report highlighted people with Down’s syndrome asked when they “caught” it, a woman reporting frequent suicidal thoughts asked why she had not yet killed herself.

Stories from claimants – released by the committee ahead of the publication of their final report on PIP and ESA assessments next week – showed relevant information was often omitted from, and fundamental errors included in, the medical assessment reports.

In September the committee asked benefit claimants to submit evidence of their experiences with the medical assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESA carried out for DWP by private contractors Capita, Atos and Maximus.

Nearly 4,000 people replied – the most ever received by a select committee inquiry, by an order of magnitude.

The committee described the accounts as “honest and often distressing” and said that they showed clear patterns.

Since 2013 there have been 170,000 PIP appeals taken to the Tribunal: Claimants won in 108,000 cases – 63%. In the same time, there have been 53,000 ESA appeals. Claimants won in 32,000 – or 60% – of those cases.

Chair of the work and pensions committee Frank Field said: “We’ve never had so many submissions from people that haven’t been organised so we’ve had over three thousand people

“I don’t think any select committee has had more voters, ordinary people writing in wanting to be part of the inquiry.

“We’re massively grateful because what they can’t see but we can see is there are common patterns of how they are all treated.”

Laura Wetherly, who is co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium and Policy Manager at the MS Society, said: “Far too often our organisations hear from disabled people who’ve had harrowing experiences trying to rightly access disability benefits.

“Assessors ask insulting and irrelevant questions, such as when someone with a progressive condition will recover, what their favourite meal is, and what level of education they have. People continue to be horrified by the multiple errors in their assessment reports – and we know lots of people don’t get to see their report, so this is likely just the tip of the iceberg.

“With assessors having such poor understanding of unpredictable conditions like MS, it’s little wonder thousands have had support reduced or removed. The Government must urgently take responsibility for improving the quality and accuracy of assessments, and we hope to see some bold recommendations from the Work and Pensions Select Committee on how to achieve this.”

1) When did you catch Down’s syndrome?

“Some of the assessors, both ESA and PIP, need more insight and training with regard to people with learning difficulties.

“Below are questions that parents have been asked at the assessments; How long have they had Down’s syndrome for? When did they catch Down’s syndrome? When were you diagnosed with Down’s syndrome? Down’s syndrome is a widely recognised learning disability.

“If an assessor is being asked to assess someone with a condition that they do not know about, common sense and courtesy should tell them to research the condition before starting the assessment.

“We therefore believe that more training is required in some cases.”

Down’s Syndrome Association

2) Why haven’t you killed yourself yet?

“The assessor also asked my mother if she were suicidal. As I recall, that went like this:

Assessor: “Are you suicidal?”

K: Yes

Assessor: How often are you suicidal?

K: Every day

Assessor: Have you tried?

K: Yes

Assessor: And why didn’t you succeed? Why did you fail?

K: My family would miss me.

Each of K’s answers was slow and ashamed.

“She had not yet told me these things, but she had been trying to bring them up at therapy to work through these feelings safely.

“For her to be forced to admit this and for there to be no after care, but the continuation of an exam, shattered her.

“I genuinely believe that without my constant assurances after the event that K would have made another suicide attempt that week.” Name witheld.

3) Not listening properly

“I was attacked with a deadly weapon only a short time before my assessment.

“The man threatened my life, on a walk with my dog.

“So the assessor wrote that I like to talk to people on my walk.” Katherine

4) You don’t look stressed

“The assessment was done by a general nurse with no mental health training.

“He concluded that, since I did not appear to be stressed, anxious or show any mental health issues during the assessment, it was “unreasonable to believe” I had mental health issues [ … ] The stress of the interview actually got me admitted to hospital the next day.”Sarah

5) Laughing at mental health problems

“The woman laughed when I told her I’d ran away to visit Julian Assange during my first psychotic episode and looked at me funny.

“Because of the woman’s behaviour and disrespect, I don’t think she knew about the difficulties and health problems people have.

“I got the impression she didn’t know about schizophrenia or psychosis.” Name witheld

6) Saying someone wasn’t suicidal because she smiled

“The assessor said in the report something to the effect that my mental health wasn’t an issue as I had smiled during my assessment. At the time of my assessment I was highly suicidal.” Amanda

7) Disputing a patient’s OCD because they hadn’t washed

“We reached a point where we were discussing my personal care and I pointed out that I hadn’t taken a shower in months.

“The nurse reacted strongly to this and said, ‘So how does your OCD affect you then?’.

“She gave me a look as if to suggest I had been caught out lying, claiming to have OCD while making statements to the contrary.

“The Community Mental Health Team support worker and I exchanged glances, both thinking that this nurse didn’t know very much about OCD. ” Name witheld

8) Mystery dog

“Apparently I walk my dog daily, which was baffling because I can barely walk and I do not have a dog!” Nikki

9) Mystery glasses

“She wrote I arose from the chair without any difficulty.

“I was in bed the whole time (she let herself in) and I only have the one chair in the room and she was sitting in it.

“She said that I had no difficulty reading with my glasses yet I do not wear glasses to read.” Mary

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