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:
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.
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.