Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:
“This is the most the Committee could have asked for at this stage and is further credit to the thousands of disabled people who sent evidence to us. The Government is making the important first steps to enable it to get out of a hole of its own making. Having the capacity to bring assessments back in house will put it in a far stronger position to turn the screws on its hitherto failing contractors, in the interests of claimants and all taxpayers. This should serve as notice for Atos and Capita to start delivering, or else.”
The Committee published its policy report on PIP and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) assessments in February 2018, which found “a pervasive culture of mistrust” around assessment processes. The Committee also published a report on claimant experiences alongside it, setting out some of the stories of the 4,000 claimants who made written submission to the inquiry, an unprecedented public response to a departmental committee.
DWP agrees to video recording of assessments as standard
In its formal response to the report, published in April 2018, the Government agreed to the Committee’s key recommendation of recording PIP assessments as standard. Today, it has announced that it will pilot video recording with a view to making it a standard part of the assessment process across Great Britain. This was a further recommendation of the Committee.
With regards to contractors, the Committee concluded:
94. The PIP and ESA contracts are drawing to a close. In both cases, the decision to contract out assessments in the first instance was driven by a perceived need to introduce efficient, consistent and objective tests for benefit eligibility. It is hard to see how these objectives have been met. None of the providers has ever hit the quality performance targets required of them, and many claimants experience a great deal of anxiety over assessments. The Department will need to consider whether the market is capable of delivering assessments at the required level and of rebuilding claimant trust. If it cannot—as already floundering market interest may suggest—the Department may well conclude assessments are better delivered in house.
With regard to recording of assessments, the Committee concluded:
44. Successive evidence-based reviews conducted on behalf of the Department have identified a pervasive culture of mistrust around PIP and ESA processes. This culminates in fear of the face-to-face assessments. This has implications far beyond the minority of claimants who directly experience poor decision making. It can add to claimant anxiety even among those for whom the process works fairly. While that culture prevails, assessors risk being viewed as, at best lacking in competence and at worst, actively deceitful. Addressing this is a vital step in restoring confidence in PIP and ESA. The case for improving trust through implementing default audio recording of assessments has been strongly made. We recommend the Department implement this measure for both benefits without delay. In the longer term, the Department should look to provide video recording for all assessments.
Image: Roger Harris