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More on recording work capability assessments - is Atos right, or the DWP?

As readers of this site will know, about three weeks ago, we began to contact the Department of Work and Pensions for clarification on points that people had raised with us about recording their Atos work capability assessments (WCAs).

As we wrote in our first post about recording WCAs:

For a while now, people have been demanding to know whether or not they can record their Atos work capability assessment sessions - or, at least, whether or not they can have those sessions recorded by Atos.... People want transcripts of the details of these assessments and evidence should they wish to challenge assessment outcomes.

At False Economy, we've spoken to people who felt that final reports of their assessments were imprecise, unfair and did not reflect discussions which took place in assessment sessions... it's no secret that many fear the appointments and want accurate recordings of the details of theirs for themselves.” In February, Chris Grayling conceded that people could ask to have their assessments recorded on approved equipment. However, many people subsequently complained that Atos failed to facilitate recordings when asked to do so. People were told that recording equipment was broken, or unavailable and even that recording was no longer an option.

So.

For the past few weeks, we've been trying to pin the DWP down on specifics. We'll push on until we do. The latest list of questions – with answers where the DWP has given them - is below. Like most people, we're finding that there are inconsistencies between advice given by Atos and the DWP, particularly around policy for rescheduling appointments when recording equipment is broken, or unavailable. We're returning to the DWP this week to try again to find out whose guidance is correct. Campaigners like Jayne Linney are also seeking answers. Feel free to leave links and other updates in the comments and let us know if you've been told that recorders are still broken, or unavailable.

These are questions that are now with the DWP (we spoke to the department most recently on Friday 20 July).

FE asked:

1) Re: the very different policy advice given by the DWP and Atos on rescheduling WCAs if recording equipment is not available:

Atos' guidance says:

"We will make every effort to accommodate requests for this service and hope that we will be able to meet demand. However, under the terms of our contract with the Department, we cannot postpone an assessment on the basis of audio-recording."

Yet the DWP's advice in response to an FOI request is that "if a claimant is unable to attend their WCA because Atos Healthcare are unable to comply with the request, the postponement will not be attributed to the claimant"

which suggests that people may have their WCAs postponed until recording equipment is available.

On 12 July, the DWP sent us an email which also suggested that rescheduling is possible if recording equipment is broken or unavailable:

"Atos will do all that they can to accommodate requests for audio recording there [sic] may be times when the service cannot be offered, for example where it has not be possible to get access to recording equipment on the date/time of the WCA. In these circumstances clients will be told in advance that their request cannot be accommodated.

People cannot use their own equipment because there is no guarantee that the recording will be complete and accurate. Atos HCPs can decline the request and offer a further assessment when recording equipment is available (our emphasis)."

 We've asked the DWP to confirm which guidance is final – Atos', which says WCAs won't be rescheduled if recording equipment isn't available, or the DWP's, which says they can be. (There's an interesting post from Friday on atosvictimsgroup which describes a user's attempt to get answers on this discrepancy).

2) We informed the DWP that some people had reported being told that recordings would no longer be offered.

The DWP said that such advice was wrong: “If they [people taking WCAs] are being told that [it is no longer possible to have WCAs recorded], then they are being misinformed, because we know that there are working machines.” The DWP said it was “working to fix the machines - the few that have problems.” We asked what people should do if they were told that recordings were no longer being offered. The department's advice was that people should contact the DWP: “We're the ones that are owning this... If they are having misinformation, we can obviously follow that up with Atos.”

3) We asked if local Atos offices must ensure that broken recorders are returned to the manufacturer while under warranty and that they are repaired as quickly as possible. We also asked if the DWP would seek refunds and/or new suppliers if equipment was faulty. The broken equipment and right to reschedule assessments until working equipment is available is obviously key to this issue. The DWP is coming back on these points.

4) We asked if people can have recordings done at home. The DWP is coming back with an answer to this.

We'll post another blog when we have more answers.

New survey to collect experiences of Atos/work capability assessments and to quantify demand.

Disabled People against Cuts (DPAC), Black Triangle and Social Welfare Union (SWU) have launched a survey to collect facts on people's experiences of work capability assessments:

“We want to make sure that we gather the REAL facts on what people are experiencing. We suspect that the government will try to pull the option for recordings of WCA completely due to what they will say is a lack of demand, so we have put together a short survey to gather information on the demand for recordings and on other issues on the WCA.”

This seems a wise idea. As recently as 12 July, the DWP told us that the recording option was not a particularly popular one with WCA participants:

"A pilot (run last year) clearly showed that audio recording of Atos assessments would not improve the quality of assessments and there was only limited evidence of improvement in the customer experience for some individuals.

- Less than half consented to having their assessment recorded and a tiny proportion, less than 1%, requested a copy of their assessment.

- Some claimants felt intimidated by having their assessment recorded and others decided not to have their assessment recorded once they arrived at the assessment centre."

The survey is here:

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/FGKJBSQ

You can find out more here:

http://falseeconomy.org.uk/campaigns/event/new-survey-to-collect-your-experiences-of-atos-work-capability-assessment

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