Audio recording possibility set to be launched for all PIP assessments, says DWP – Incapacity Information Service

The Department of Labor and Pensions (DWP) finally agreed that all disabled people whose personal independence payment (PIP) is assessed can have their personal assessments recorded.

The promise was made in a letter to the Right to Record Action Group, a handicapped-led group of activists in Barking and Dagenham who have met online every week for the past six months.

They worked with audio artist Hannah Kemp-Welch to collect testimonials from people who applied for PIP, lobby MPs, and produce a radio program to “creatively promote change.”

They have urged ministers to fulfill the government’s promise to ensure that audio equipment is available in every PIP assessment center, or, if they cannot, allow applicants to record their ratings on their cell phones or other devices.

In one of the letters they said to Justin Tomlinson, Minister for Disabled People: “Members of our Action Group have testified of their mostly negative experiences with PIP assessments – including degrading treatment and inaccurate written reports from reviewers.”

They argued that the current rules that allow PIP ratings to be audio recorded require applicants to bring their own equipment, which must be able to produce two identical copies of the recording on audio cassette or CD.

They told Tomlinson that this is “an insurmountable barrier” for applicants wishing to exercise their right to an audio recording of their assessment.

Research by the International Disability Law Clinic (IDLC) at the University of Leeds in 2019 (PDF) found it was illegal not to have an audio recording available for PIP assessments.

IDLC found that DWP’s “delay in meeting its obligation to set up recording equipment” for each PIP assessment violates the 2010 Equality Act, the European Convention on Human Rights and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

Now the action group has received a response from ministers that audio recordings should be available if DWP resumes the personal PIP ratings that are currently “on hold” due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

DWP has advised its two private contractors, Atos and Capita, that all personal PIP ratings must be recorded, although it would appear that applicants must continue to require their assessment to be recorded rather than automatic.

In a letter drafted on behalf of ministers last week, a DWP official said, “We recently started working with both review providers to find a suitable method for audio recording, which we hope will come with the reintroduction of Face- to be introducing -face reviews.

“This eliminates the need for applicants to source equipment that meets the required specifications for their assessment as the assessment provider records the assessment on behalf of the applicant.”

The audio recording of phone PIP ratings, introduced for some applicants during the pandemic, has been available through Atos since September 21, 2020 and through Capita since November 30, 2020.

Kevin Walton, a member of the action group, told the Disability News Service (DNS), “I participated in this campaign because I was tired of being called a liar by Atos Healthcare.

“I had three PIP evaluations and each time I had to go to a tribunal and they were all overturned.”

He said that ensuring that recording devices are available for all PIP assessments “is beneficial for all and prevents unnecessary postponements and suffering for applicants”.

He said, “We also need medical examinations from our own GPs that will benefit everyone.”

Walton said that “too many people have been disappointed in this greedy government” and that it is time for disabled people to “take a stand”.

He said the project showed that disabled people “can make a difference and hopefully stop the lying private reviewers”.

Another member of the action group, Carina Murray, said: “Working with other people with similar experiences to me – trying to control the brutal process of PIP’s rating system – has been an empowering experience.

“It has enabled me to move from being told of feeling like a criminal to being a person who has a valid legal right to be heard in a fair and just manner without fear of reprisals.

“Recording reviews will fill in the gaps where information is overlooked so our voices will be heard.”

She said the Action Group also wants applicants to have a “no equipment, no assessment” right. So if there is no working recording device on site and available, the applicant would have the right to review their assessment without the risk of “punitive action” from DWP.

A DWP spokesman declined to add to the letter sent to the action group, but confirmed that “an opt-in system for audio recording of telephone and personal reviews is still in place”.

Disabled activists have worked for years to persuade DWP to make it easier for applicants to record their assessments, due to widespread concerns about the accuracy of assessment reports.

DNS spent months investigating allegations of dishonesty from PIP reviewers in late 2016 and throughout 2017, and eventually heard from more than 250 disabled people in less than a year who said their assessment reports were dishonest.

They told DNS that the appraisers working for Capita and Atos – many of them nurses – had repeatedly lied, ignored written evidence, and dishonestly reported the results of physical exams.

Some disabled activists responded to the government’s continued failure to deal with the dishonesty and inaccuracy of the PIP scoring process by putting in place programs to lend applicants expensive recording equipment so they could record their own scores.

Liza Vallance, Artistic Director and General Manager of Studio 3 Arts, the nonprofit that Kemp-Welch hired, said, “This moment really shows the power of art as a vehicle for change.

“I’m so proud that Studio 3 Arts has done a part in this – creating a space where you can hear and be guided by locals who have experience with the PIP rating system.

“As someone with a chronic illness and my own experience of navigating the system, I am personally honored to be able to stand with Hannah and our group and say we made this possible.”

The commission is part of a larger Studio 3 Arts project funded by the Barking and Dagenham Council as part of its community cohesion project Connected Communities.

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