Progress for PIP claimants, but not people on ESA

DWP’s announcement last week of its plans to video record PIP assessments is welcome news. ESA claimants deserve just the same

Jen Durrant, Policy and Campaigns Officer

DWP’s announcement last week of its plans to video record PIP assessments is welcome news. Of course, the refusal to provide claimants with a copy of their assessment report is hugely disappointing, and we are still waiting for details of when and how recording will be introduced and what protections for claimants will be put in place. But the intention at least is promising.

For one thing, it represents a recognition from government that the assessment process is flawed and that much greater transparency is needed to improve it. If implemented effectively, video recording should also deter and reduce the bad practice being shown by assessors, improve the accuracy of assessment reports and provide crucial evidence for the hundreds of thousands of ill and disabled people who are being failed by the current process and have to appeal just to get their benefits back.

In these ways, last week’s announcement is an important first step towards tackling the huge flaws in the assessment system. However, it also highlighted an ongoing disparity in the Government’s treatment of PIP claimants compared to those applying for ESA.

In order to get their assessment audio-recorded, claimants of either benefit currently have to submit a request in advance. They can then use “the service offered” by DWP/Maximus (for ESA) or provide their own recording equipment (for both ESA and PIP).

Neither of these options is easy. Our clients’ experiences show that people who ask for an official recording are often told the assessment centre’s recording equipment is broken, unavailable or completely non-existent. Others go through the entire assessment only to find the assessor ‘forgot’ to turn the machine on. And many more are unaware that such a service even exists.

For those who try to provide their own equipment, the obstacles are just as great. DWP regulations declare that “media types that are acceptable are standard CD and audio tapes only” – which, in today’s world, makes it extremely difficult for people to get the equipment they need.

The government has now recognised that “in practice the complexity and potential costs to claimants means that very few take up this option.”

For PIP, they state: “We agree that this does not go far enough to help build trust in the system and therefore we intend to make recording the PIP assessment a standard part of the process.”

For ESA, however – for which claimants face the exact same complexities and costs of providing compliant equipment – there is no such intention.

To justify this difference in treatment, the Government points to the low number of requests for audio recording from ESA claimants, suggesting there is little demand for it. However, many claimants are unaware that recording is available, and others lack the means and/or expertise to be able to request it.

When asked directly, many of our clients say they would have liked to have their assessment recorded, but they did not know how to do so. It is often not until after they have suffered a flawed and inappropriate assessment that they realise how important a recording could be. The current lack of requests cannot therefore be taken as proof that introducing recording as standard would not be desirable – and hugely beneficial – for many claimants. That goes for ESA just as it does for PIP.

Recording is vital for restoring public trust in the system, improving the quality of assessments and ensuring people’s access to a fair hearing. If, as yesterday’s announcement suggests, the government wishes to achieve these aims, then it must ensure that recording is provided to all ill and disabled people applying for support – including those claiming ESA.

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