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Trying to record Atos work capability assessments

Update 20 July: after another week or so of emails and calls, the DWP is responding to our questions. We should have another blog ready soon.

Update 12 July: Thanks for your emails and comments. We'll be posting updates soon as we pursue answers.

Confusion reigns as people try to find out if they can record their Atos work capability assessments, so we've been in touch with the DWP.  We're still trying to get information, but here's the story to date. We'll keep you informed as things go on.

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 ask to have those sessions recorded by Atos.

There's a variety of reasons why people want to record their WCAs. The most obvious is that people want transcripts of the details of these most sensitive of assessments and, of course, to have evidence of the specifics of their assessments should they wish to challenge assessment outcomes.

A fast-growing number people do exactly that - here, the Guardian reports a 56% increase during 2010/2011 in the number of people appealing decisions.

At False Economy, we've spoken to people who felt that their assessments were imprecise and unfair - in this article, for example, Paul from Cheshire said: "there was no sympathy at all [at my assessment] They even got my date of birth and my medication wrong. They said I went out shopping and visiting my brother - none of which was true. I can't go out of the door on my own.” Paul was found fit for work at his first assessment - a decision which was overturned on appeal. People's ability to keep themselves afloat financially often depend on the outcomes of their WCAs. It's no secret that many fear the appointments and want accurate recordings of the details of theirs for themselves.

On February 1, Chris Grayling appeared to concede that people could ask to have their sessions recorded:

"On audio recording - we will offer everyone who wants it the opportunity to have their session recorded. We decided not to implement universal recording because, based on the trial experience, people did not want it. Few people wanted their sessions recorded, and some said that they definitely did not. We decided therefore to offer recording as an option to those who want it. That seems entirely sensible."

People do seem to want recordings, though. The problem appears to be that they're struggling to get them. People are reporting that Atos' recording equipment is broken, or unreliable, and that they've been told they can't have their sessions recorded because of it (this link also leads to a petition which asks the DWP and Atos to make sure recording equipment is available and functioning). Disabled People Against the Cuts has a report on the issue here (you'll see that there is plenty of concern in the comments, as well) and Jayne Linney here.

Concern and confusion reign, as we say. So, False Economy decided to approach the DWP, to ask not only for recent official guidance, but also for clear instructions on the steps people can take if they are told that official recording equipment isn't available. Certainly, answers to some of these questions can be found in published FOI requests on relevant sites, but we wanted to talk directly to the DWP as well, particularly in light of concerns people have raised about non-functioning equipment and if equipment isn't available in an ongoing way. 

That meant getting answers to all of these questions:

- Can people request a recording?

- If "official" recording equipment is broken, or not available, can people use their own recording equipment to record their sessions?

- If "official" recording equipment is broken, or not available, can people ask to reschedule their WCAs until recording equipment is available, without fear of sanction or censure?

It is also important that people know whether or not the recordings they have can be used as evidence in any challenges that they want to make against their WCA outcomes.

So. We've been trying to get the last line on this from the DWP for a week now - an effort that has so far yielded thin results. We've been able to establish the fact that people can ask for their assessments to be recorded, but not what they can do if official equipment isn't available (especially in an ongoing way). We're pursuing this. In the meantime, here's a record of the correspondence that we've had with the DWP since last Monday on this subject:

- We called the DWP last Monday (2/7/2012) and asked if they could send us details of the WCA recording protocol. The DWP press office wrote back later that day with this statement:

"I believe you asked about recordings in the WCA process. Claimants can request for assessments to be recorded if they wish to do so."

That was it.

We wrote straight back and asked if the press office could clarify the situation for people if they were told that the recording equipment was broken, or not available. Could they bring their own recording equipment, or postpone their WCAs until Atos' equipment was working, without fear of benefit sanction, or censure?:

"Thanks very much for your reply.

Can we just get clarity for that, because we'll post this up in a public forum: people are saying that they are being advised by their local DWP offices that they can't have their assessments recorded, because of problems with equipment (see comment #9 in particular):

http://www.dpac.uk.net/2012/07/having-your-wca-recorded/#comments

If that's the case, is provision made for alternative functioning equipment, or is it possible for people to bring their own equipment if local equipment isn't functioning? Also - if people are advised that local equipment isn't functioning, can they hold off their assessment until it is without having their application affected?"

We didn't receive a response to this, so we called again in the middle of the week (4/7/2012) and left another message. Again, there was no response. So, we called again on Monday 9 July and talked to an officer  who asked if he could help. We said that he could and that we'd forward the original questions to him, which we did:

"You'll see from the email trail below that we're looking for clarification regarding the recording of work capability assessments. The first officer indicated in his original reply that people can request that recordings of their WCAs are made. People have approached us, though, saying that when they've attended their assessments, they've been told that equipment is not operational and/or that they can't have their assessments recorded (the link to the DPAC site below will take you to a thread on a forum on the topic that was running on the site a week ago).

The points we're seeking clarification on are:

- If Atos recording equipment is broken/not available, are people permitted to bring their own equipment?

and

- If Atos recording equipment is broken/not available, can people ask to reschedule their assessment until equipment is available, without having their application affected?"

We also asked if it was possible for people to take video recordings as well as audio recordings.

We've had no response yet, so we'll push on. Feel free to leave guidance, links or details of your own experiences in the comments - certainly, a lot of people have been working on this for a while. It would also be interesting to hear from anyone who has successfully had an official recording taken of their WCA.

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