Parliamentary Question | taking of oral evidence in appeals against Work Capability Assessment decisions | 14 March 2013

March 18, 2013

The Countess of Mar tabled a question that asked the Government whether, in the light of the relevance of oral evidence to appeals against work capability assessment decisions, they have given consideration to decision makers taking oral evidence directly or by telephone at an early stage of the decision-making process; and what, if any, are the reasons against adopting such a policy.

Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform at the Department for Work and Pensions, provided a written reply on 14 March 2013. He wrote:

Following recommendations made in Professor Harrington's first independent review of the work capability assessment we have introduced changes to the decision making process.

After the face-to-face assessment takes place and before a final decision is taken, a decision maker will try to telephone the claimant to explain what will happen next. This is known as the decision assurance call and provides the decision maker the opportunity to discuss the proposed decision with the claimant and for the claimant to provide further documentary or oral evidence if appropriate.

The decision assurance call is an important opportunity to further explore with the claimant if further documentary evidence is available/required to help ensure that the correct decision is made from the outset. We are committed to continually improving the WCA and to ensuring that, wherever possible, decisions are right first time. The decision assurance call plays a key role in this, as well as helping ensure the WCA process is more empathetic and less mechanistic.

7 thoughts on “Parliamentary Question | taking of oral evidence in appeals against Work Capability Assessment decisions | 14 March 2013”

  1. I’m glad that steps are being taken to improve the WCA, but I don’t think ME patients will find telephone conversations a helpful part of the process as it is not easy to think quickly on the phone, an ME patient is unlikely to remember the conversation and there is no written evidence of what took place. From the patient’s persective, written communications provide legal safeguards that are non existent during brief phone calls. Written confirmation of communications is more likely to protect vulnerable applicants, in my opinion.

    Also this idea that claimants are upgraded to WRAG or Support group on appeal because they presented new evidence at their tribunal which was previously unseen by the DWP is not always true.

    I was moved from WRAG to the Support group on what the Tribunal said was ‘essentially the same’ information. I did not attend my tribunal due to ill health. The most likely reason for this change was that the Tribunal are NOT financially invested in the decision either way, whereas the DWP/ATOS are.

  2. I would like to note also that the DWP/ATOS appear to be becoming shy at confirming conversions to the Support group in writing, in some cases, or at least in crystal clear language.

    My Tribunal decision was confirmed indirectly, but not directly, in writing by the DWP/ATOS. (This is important as the Tribunal state that they have no legal powers to enforce their recommendations – thereby implying, I assume that the DWP/ATOS can ignore them and stick with their original decision).

    A few weeks after my Tribunal, a ‘Changes in the ESA rates payable’ letter arrived – which gave every impression of being an annual rate upgrade (end of tax year) type letter. It stated ‘We have looked again at your claim following a recent change’ – but, there was NO confirmation or indication on page 1 or 2 of the letter as to what the change was, or the name of the group to which I had been allocated.

    Finally, there was one reference to the Support group on page 3, next to the new weekly payment allocated for the new tax year.

    A friend who has M.E. and who has been immobilised in bed due to recent orthopaedic surgery, was in a similiar quandary. Her mother received a letter confirming that they had looked at her daughter’s claim again and had ‘made a change’ – but again, there was no written indication what this change was/that this change was to the Support group. Her mother then had to make yet another expensive call to the DWP line (and wait ages for a response) to clarify whether her daughter was now in fact in the Support group.

    (It is also important to inform housing/council tax offices of the change, as the DWP apparently do not and it may affect what you pay.)

    I would like to see this issue addressed. There is no reason at all why the DWP/ATOS’s communications, when the decision is in the claimant’s favour, cannot be crystal clear.

  3. Thanks for this timely post. I’m currently on IB, had my ATOS ESA assessment two weeks ago & got a call yesterday from DWP to arrange a convenient time for a decisionmaker to ring me. Was slightly puzzled by their making an appointment for what I thought was just a courtesy information-giving call, prior to sending me their decision in writing. I now take it that the call contributes to the decision! The call is scheduled for Friday [8.30-11am] -more info after then.

    1. They only phone if they are intending to fail you! The call is to see whether you can offer any relevant reason why they should not. Sorry.

  4. Are there a series of unspoken questions informing our attitude towards the sick and disabled? Do they look like this?:

    1. If someone is too ill to work, is it worth providing them with the means to remain alive?

    2. How much is a sick and disabled life worth?

    3. If the sick and disabled starve or commit suicide due to lack of financial support will this look bad? Who will look bad? The state, relatives, neighbours, the “community” around them? Who is responsible for helping to alleviate human suffering? Everyone or no one?

    4. If we manage to persuade ourselves that the sick and disabled aren’t that incapacitated or deserving would that justify our reluctance to help them?

    5. What do we do with the weaker members of a society and what can we get away with doing to them?

    6. What sort of a civilisation are we?

    7. Should we leave people who have never faced destitution to answer these questions?

    8. Are we all culpable in answering these questions?

  5. Agree Stephen. And there will be no written evidence for the patient of exactly what was said during the call. A telephone system simply saves the DWP/ATOS time and money of a) writing, b) going to appeal – it does not necessarily help the patient. And in a sense it is deceptive because it is presented as a means of assisting a claimant.

  6. Yes folks you were right -the DWP call was essentially to tell me they’d decided I wasn’t eligible for ESA. There was an opportunity for me to add info which might change their minds – examples offered were marked deterioration in 3 weeks since assessment, or strong medication that somehow hadn’t been mentioned. I’ve now got the decision in writing – with a copy of the ATOS report which I requested. If MEA is collecting these as evidence of their inadequacy as a means of judging a claimant’s ability to work, I’d be happy to provide a copy, to be used anonymously. Final point to note – the timescale for appeal is very short – I was told 4 weeks from the date of the letter.

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