ATOS is ignoring DWP guidelines – again

Abandon hope ATOS

We have just written another letter of complaint to ATOS (or Independent Assessment Services, as they are now called), who have again ignored DWP guidelines about the role of companions accompanying people to their PIP assessment. Let’s hope they respond as quickly as they did last time. Here is our letter:

Dear Sir/Madam

We write again with a serious complaint about your assessment centre at Gemini Crescent, Dundee. Last Thursday (17th May) one of our volunteers accompanied a man to his assessment. The person being assessed has serious brain damage and had asked our volunteer to help him make sure that he fully answered the questions, and that all the difficulties he needed to raise were covered. This is something we have helped with many times before, in line with the DWP guidelines reproduced below. However, on this occasion the assessors told our volunteer that he could not speak to assist our friend, and that he would only be allowed to do so if he applied beforehand to be an Appointee. Our volunteer was not wanting to represent our friend, only to assist him, which he insisted on doing as needed. But this made the interview unnecessarily stressful and difficult. We are very concerned that this may have made it hard for our friend to receive a fair hearing, and also that others may be prevented from having the assistance that they need and that the DWP guidelines specifically encourage.

We note that there is currently a poster on the wall telling advocates that they cannot speak on behalf of the person they are accompanying, which could also be dangerously misleading in making people think that they cannot speak at all. It would be helpful instead to have some form of wording similar to the guidelines.

In our friend’s case, the situation was exacerbated by the fact that he only received your letter explaining his rights to have someone help him explain his situation when he got home from the assessment.

Further, our friend had managed, with great difficulty, to get his doctor to provide a letter explaining his situation, which he brought with him to the interview. However he was told that the assessor could not make a copy of it because the photocopier was broken. It is both incredible and inexcusable that an assessment centre is unable to make copies of the vital documents needed to support peoples’ cases.

Please can you speak to the Dundee assessment centre and assure us that these problems will not occur in future?

Finally, we note that the entrance to the reception room has now been moved half way down the corridor, so that whatever end you enter the building you are faced with a twenty metre walk without even a rail to lean on. We had hoped that with the opening of the second assessment centre in the centre of town, all people with mobility difficulties would be sent there instead, but – as we found last week – that is not the case. For people with mobility difficulties, the Gemini Crescent building is simply not fit for purpose.

Sincerely

Dr Sarah Glynn

for the Scottish Unemployed Workers’ Network

 

These are the paragraphs of the DWP Guidance for PIP assessors to which we refer:

Companions at consultations

1.6.50 Claimants have a right to be accompanied to a face-to-face consultation if they so wish. Claimants should be encouraged to bring another person with them to consultations where they would find this helpful – for example, to reassure them or to help them during the consultation. The person chosen is at the discretion of the claimant and might be, but is not limited to, a parent, family member, friend, carer or advocate.

1.6.51 Consultations should predominantly be between the HP and the claimant. However, the companions may play an active role in helping claimants answer questions where the claimant or HP wishes them to do so. HPs should allow a companion to contribute and should record any evidence they provide. This may be particularly important where the claimant has a mental, cognitive or intellectual impairment. In such cases the claimant may not be able to give an accurate account of their health condition or impairment, through a lack of insight or unrealistic expectations of their own ability. In such cases it will be essential to get an accurate account from the companion.

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How Universal Credit can muck up your holiday

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On first glance, Universal Credit rules look deceptively promising: you are able to be out of the country for as long as a month. BUT, there is no holiday from all the things you have committed to do. And, while you might be able to argue that you can search and apply for jobs on the computer wherever you are, you are expected to be able to attend a job interview immediately. This could be a problem even if you are only somewhere else in the UK.

This holiday rule includes people who are in low-paid work that pays less than the equivalent of 35 hours a week on the minimum wage, and who have to look for more or better paid work in order to qualify for help from Universal Credit. People have been  caught out after assuming that they are still entitled to their statutory holidays. One way of getting round this, if you can afford it, is to sign off Universal Credit and then sign on again when you get home; but you not only lose the benefit for the time you are away, you also have to go through the initial waiting period all over again.

If you have been found unfit for work and have no tasks you have to do, then going away should not affect your benefit. If you have committed to do a few tasks in preparation for future work, you might be able to get your GP to write and say that a holiday would be more beneficial to your recovery.

Not telling the DWP that you are going away is always a risk – especially if you are a Facebook user! And if you have been found to be keeping things from them once, they may chase you on every detail in future.

And of course there’s still the problem of paying for a holiday…

Good luck!

(Strange how the DWP stress that being unemployed should be like looking for work, with 35 hour a week jobsearch and payment in arrears, but forget about the statutory holiday bit…)

Just another collection of problems

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Rona’s poor health meant that she missed too many college courses and lost her bursary. So she left college and signed on. But the DWP won’t give her any benefits because she hasn’t produced a letter from the college to say she is no longer a student. The jobcentre did ask her for a letter, but that was two days before she had an operation, and she had other things on her mind. So she was left to rely on her son for support. She will arrange for the letter, but she doesn’t feel strong enough to fight for any back payments. We suggested she ask the council for a Scottish Welfare Fund grant to help until her benefit is sorted.

John and Amy had had to get professional help to sort out another muddle due to the DWP using out of date information. They have been living separately for three years and had informed the jobcentre about this – but the records had them still living together and they were being treated as a couple.

Kirsty has multiple health problems and gets help from a support worker. She is on ESA but her boyfriend has moved in with her and wants to claim Universal Credit. We explained that they would have to make a joint claim, and that because that is a change of circumstances that affects her benefit it will mean a new claim in the Universal Credit system. It’s not easy stuff to explain out on the street, and we urged her to go to see a welfare advisor who can look at their situation as a whole.

Kirsty faced being moved to Universal Credit because of a change in her claim, but sometimes the Jobcentre’s eagerness to transfer people to Universal Credit causes them to overstep the mark. Bob and Gemma had been made to apply for Universal Credit without having had a change of circumstances. They were getting help from Welfare Rights in challenging this.

Outwith all these muddles, and despite the appalling system, we are aware that the Jobcentre is generally trying to treat people in a more civilised fashion than in the past. Often this is reflected in positive comments when we ask people coming out if they have had any problems. Today, though, one person responded cheerily ‘No problems – she’s a bitch though.’ While another remarked that the place should be blown up!

Thanks to Tony, Jonathan and Kat for help with the stall