This is the second part of the Benefits and Work article on ‘What PIP telephone assessments are really like’. It’s based on the results of over 250 responses to our readers survey which is still open.
Almost one in five respondents recorded their assessment call, some others regretted not doing so.
Problems hearing the assessor clearly was the top technical issue.
The majority had no problems with the assessor’s manner, but a small minority felt bullied and harassed.
A minority of assessors will not have read your PIP2 form prior to the assessment. Some will try to read it as the assessment takes place and some won’t even pretend to be interested.
Around a quarter of respondents felt that they had not been asked enough questions about daily living and a similar proportion were not asked enough about mobility.
There were particular problems with some assessors not asking questions relating to mobility and mental health, where it was relevant to the claim.
In some cases, no adjustments were made for claimants who could not easily use the phone of who needed someone with them.
Recording the call
It is not unlawful to covertly record your assessment if it is for personal use. And you can offer the recording, or a transcript, as evidence at an appeal.
82% of claimants didn’t record the call. Some because they thought it was unlawful to do so.
“I was told it was illegal to record the appeal”
But 18%, almost one in five, did make a recording.
“Recorded the assessment, but I didn’t tell the assessor.”
“Mobile on speakerphone, recording using laptop.”
“My phone records all calls.”
Some made a recording even though they had been told they were not allowed to.
“We rang capita 1 week prior to assessment to see if we could record the new style telephone assessment, they said a categoric NO, there was nothing on gov and capita websites which mentioned anything to do with recording the telephone assessment only the face to face, there was also no mention of recording on the appointment letter or text message, i recorded it because it is not against the law.”
“I had double recording equipment as had permission to record f2f, which should have happened week before. Said to assessor that I was going to record and was told I wasn't allowed to. I did however record it.”
One respondent informed the DWP, in the course of the mandatory reconsideration, that they had made a recording of the call.
“Lots of what I said was either missed out or written wrongly, I got flustered and broke down but she said I engaged well, she altered distances and tried to suggest I did things I couldn't which I pulled her up for on the phone. Also the fact I can drive an automatic car means I cannot have PIP the decision letter says, which seems weird with motability and PIP. I have written an MR letter based on the decision letter and told them that my recording of the call is very different to the what is written. I will say in the past I had two Atos assessments for esa and neither assessor wrote a true account so I had to do MR's and a tribunal where I won before this one.”
And some who did not record the call subsequently wished they had.
“I regret it deeply now. I told the consultant everything that I struggle with and I was awarded 0 point. The letter I've got says everything differently.”
“Unfortunately not, I wish I had. I felt pressured to answer questions at a certain speed, and felt the assessors manner was loud and intimidating, amongst other things.”
For most people the call was free from technical issues.
82% said there were no problems.
But almost a fifth of people did experience difficulties.
The main problem was with call volume, either difficulty hearing or being heard.
“I frequently couldn't hear him and had to ask him to repeat himself again and again. He seemed to be mumbling and too far away from his phone. He became annoyed and rude just because I couldn't hear or understand him.”
“I couldn't always hear clearly what the assessor was saying because of the poor signal from his side.”
“Assessor struggled with head set. I had difficulty in hearing sometime.”
“The call was muffled so I had to keep asking for the questions to be repeated - this put me off my flow when answering - so the next day I rang DWP Pip Dept and made 4 clarifications of answers I had given the day before at the phone assessment.”
“The phone she was using had a poor signal so sometimes it was hard to understand each other.”
Calls getting cut off was another problem encountered by several claimants.
The call also cut out at 59 minutes, though she had warned us about it previously as it had been on other calls. We have suspicions it has been set to do this (not her fault).”
“Phone cut off during call. Assessor said it kept happening with her calls.”
A further issue was assessors not being able to access the company server or software.
“2nd attempt assessor could not get into computer system.”
“Technical issues relating to IT issues with slow systems not ‘booting up’.
The assessor’s manner
The vast majority of respondents did not have problems with their assessor’s manner.
“She was actually very nice in manner and seemed very understanding.”
“Very nice easy to talk to Friendly helpful and seemed surprised and concerned about my conditions.”
47% thought the assessor was encouraging, while 45% described them as neutral.
So, most people have nothing to fear in terms of an unpleasant assessor. But some of the 8% who described the assessor as unfriendly seem to have had a deeply unpleasant experience that should never be allowed to occur.
“Hostile, aggressive and bullying. I have attended six f2f assessments for disability benefits over last 12 years. I have never experienced such rudeness or nastiness. He came across as someone who doesn't believe in Fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue and was openly dismissive of my symptoms. It bordered on mockery at times.”
“Loud, forceful, and I felt intimidating. I felt completely unnerved.”
"Upset me greatly with her manner. Seemed to be eating also, the whole experience made me feel like nothing, and she told me she had another person after me to talk to"
“Shouting at me. Forcing me to hurry up.”
“Assessor was very harsh and rude to me. Shouting at me putting pressure on me to answer quickly. Interrupting me saying I didn’t ask that. She made me so scared and anxious I started crying. Very uncaring. Tricking me to say things that were not true. Kept going on and on. Forcing words into my mouth such as how far can you walk. I said I don’t know. She said a minute I said maybe she said 2 mins then. The whole experience was so bad I felt upset all day after that. Some questions were so irrelevant to my disabilities. Her focus was mainly on what my role is as a carer.”
“She was loud, insensitive, and totally fixated on getting to the end of the assessment as fast as possible (possibly because she was running late). Whenever I tried to explain my condition other than a yes or no answer, she'd go off on a long (time-wasting) rant about how many questions there were, what she had to do etc.. and how little time there was left (even when we'd just begun!). In the end, I gave up & just gave extremely short answers; effectively I learned more about her job & problems than she learned about how my illness affects me.”
In general, assessors seem to have taken the time to read the claimant’s PIP2 form in advance.
59% of people said that the assessor did seem to have read their form
"She both reassured us that she had and also seemed to understand what has been written in the form."
"Had clearly read and taken into account my very detailed form and evidence"
However, a disappointing 14% said the assessor had not read their form. And a further 27% weren’t sure, which suggests little if any reference was made to the form in the course of the assessment.
In some cases there was no room for doubt that the form had not been read.
“He actually said ‘I haven't read it, have I?’ when I referred to my claim from and supporting evidence as if he thought I was stupid to think he had.”
“Did not have form to hand. offered to send copy . Declined. said she had two other cases that day with no forms”
“Asked her if she had read any information that I had sent her, and she said no”
In other cases, even though the health professional did not admit it, the claimant was in little doubt that their form had not been read.
“Seemed to be reading my information as the assessment was taking place”
“She claimed to have read it but had slipped up making totally inappropriate remarks for someone who had read it so think she was hurriedly looking through it as we talked”
“Did not know my health condition kept naming condition not on the form.”
“I had to bring things up which she thanked me for saying it was 'helpful'. I do not think she had read my form or seen the evidence.”
“She was talking about my medication and was obviously reading from an old assessment form even though this is supposed to be a new assessment. My meds had changed on the new form but she clearly didn't know.”
Daily living questions
60% thought they had been asked a lot of questions on daily living, while 23% said there were not enough and 14% said there were very few.
“Yes, she asked questions, I told her what I use to help me but at the end I've scored 0 points. I don't know how. One thing was strange, I said that my husband is doing all the finances, I don't even log in to online banking. She seemed very happy, nearly shouted "so you do online banking". I said, no, I just have the log in details somewhere.”
“Yes but then didn't write down what I said she wrote about someone else I think because it wasn't what I told her”
“But was also putting words into my mouth. Telling me l look at my on-line banking. Don't have on-line banking.”
“Had hidden agenda. He bullied me over not being able to drive, insinuating that because I have not handed my driving licence back to DVLA I must still be able to drive. I passed my test in 1988. I have not been able to drive for over 3 years as too dangerous. It is illegal to drive if your illness makes it unsafe and my insurance would be invalid. I have no car, nor access to one. He clearly didn't like this and was openly defiant over my assertion I cannot drive. I have not given up my licence because it is convenient for ID and I am not legally obliged to. He claimed in his assessment, my having a driving licence proves I have no problem with planning a journey and no cognitive problems. Utter rubbish!”
“I don't think we went into much detail when discussing my problems with cooking for instance, at least I wrote a lot more than I said due to the way the questions were asked on the phone.”
“There was a section in the middle where she really seemed to skim through the questions without letting us fully describe. This is hopefully because she had enough info from the form and not because she had made assumptions that they were not relevant.”
When it comes to the mobility component, fewer people were confident that they had been properly assessed.
In 8% of cases respondents didn’t regard the mobility component as relevant to them.
Of the rest, only 45% said they had been asked a lot of questions about mobility. 26% said there were not enough and 21% said there were very few.
In some cases there appear to have been none at all.
“Didn't ask about mobility at all.”
“No mobility questions”
“just about getting around the home.”
Where there were questions about mobility, they were often not what was expected.
“He asked nothing about my ability to walk, just focused on my ability to drive, even though I have no car and don't drive. He asked nothing about me using a mobility scooter. He asked nothing about my pain or fatigue levels. He asked me how far I could walk. I said I can't, not without significant pain. He asked me how I get to shops. I don't go to shops, I order everything I need online, including groceries has been like this for over a decade. I rarely go out. He asked me how I got to GP. I told him a taxi. He asked how far I walked from taxi to GP's room. I estimated (very hard) about three to four bus lengths, with a crutch and in pain. He put in his report I can walk more than 200 meters regularly.”
“She kept saying that she was not interested in the effect on my epilepsy on my mobility - even though frequent grand and petit mal means I am at risk of being run over (multiple examples)”
“Mobility questioning done in a round-about manner, by asking questions about supermarkets, bus stops, getting around etc. Nothing was asked to gather info relating to if I can mobilise repeatedly, reliably and as often as required. Post-exertional malaise not really enquired about. It all seemed to be about what I could do in isolation, at one specific time.”
And even when questions were asked, the answers were not always faithfully recorded.
“Yes but again she wrote different things to what I said and added zeros, for example 5m became 50m and up to 20m became over 200m so not a true account of the phone call.”
Mental health issues appear to have sometimes been ignored.
“She asked if I could walk whatever distance. I can physically but due to my mental state (agoraphobia, anxiety, panic attacks etc) no I can’t most of the time but Didn’t get a chance to explain because she fired another question before I could think. That was the same for most of it if not all.”
“Mostly not relevant to me - most of the questions were about mobility aids, but as I was applying based on mental health, it wasn't applicable. She didn't ask if I could go on public transport or plan a journey or follow a map etc. only if I could get to the car without falling over.”
“Asked how I get from one place to another. I am virtually recluse. My sister takes me to appointments. Will not use public transport but got turned down on mobility section. Still awaiting appointment with neurology department. Got lost when I wandered off in a familiar area! Not even taken into account.”
We didn’t ask a specific question about reasonable adjustments to the assessment process for people who cannot use the phone or who need someone with them when they do so.
But a number of you told us about difficulties you had in this regard.
“I wrote, emailed and had someone phone on my behalf to tell IAS and DWP that I have social anxiety and can't use phone. There was no option or I would lose claim. So I took a diazepam to enable me to pick up phone and then had a very stressful, unsatisfying conversation with a HP who had no idea about mental health issues and focused mainly on my physical capabilities. I scored 2points and have lost my claim.”
“Throughout this process, I have made the DWP that I am unable to use the phone, but they still insisted that this assessment went ahead. As a result my husband was effectively interviewed. There are elements of my conditions that I'm not comfortable discussing with him so effectively only a part of my conditions were addressed, though he did try. He was also getting confused and twisted up during the last half hour as he was tired, he is into his 70's. I do not expect to receive an award, and feel that this method of assessment is unfair.”
“i am severly deaf i found it really difficult i was anxious had a severe headache half way through call my daughter lip reading and repeating questions to me pointing out on my booklet where we were on questions telephone assessments are not suitable for deaf claimant they need to be face to face to be able to lip read the person to be successful to get the help a deaf person needs to fulfil their life as being deaf is a everyday problem for us”
“My sister could not make the first one as she needed me with her as she is profoundly deaf – she also advised them she would have to break the Gov guidelines re Covid 19 – they said if she didn’t make the next one her application would be cancelled. They then moved the second appointment from a Monday to a Saturday afternoon.”
Below are some of the results that respondents told us about, some positive and some negative. It’s not an indication of whether results are better, worse or just the same when decisions are based on telephone assessments. It will be many months before we get the statistics that tell us that.
“I was dreading this telephone assessment from Capita .But went really well. It did last longer than I expected well over an hour. But the GREAT news is I received, my letter from DWP regarding the Pip telephone assessment and ive now been awarded Enhanced Pip Care but no mobility.”
“I have just received the results of my PIP assessment, even though very favourable ...The PIP report seemed to be very accurate, the DM / CM seemed to take all the information, medical evidence & test results into account and I was Awarded Enhanced for both for 6 years, I have still requested a copy of the Medical Assessment for my PIP file.”
“Had the assessment and the decision. I took the call for my husband. On the decision letter they have lied about a lot of things and not said that I took the call when my husband explained he was not feeling well. He has been dropped from high rate mobility to standard.”
“My husband received a letter within 2 weeks. Results were enhanced rate for both care and
“I found the telephone assessment to be an advantage to myself. Having previously only ever had the enhanced rate for personal care and the standard rate for mobility, I was surprised to be awarded the enhanced rate for mobility this time so the phone assessment worked in my favour.”
“I must say it wasn’t stressful, the guy was very nice, from my telephone call , explained that my condition had got worse. I got my letter and they backed dated monies for care, now I am on enhanced for both. Which is for ongoing now. As many other people have said with out your fantastic help, filling out these ridiculous forms, or books. I cannot thank you enough. I certainly will keep my subscription going with you. Thank you for all your hard work”
“I have received my decision within three weeks and I have been turned down for PIP. They have not recorded responses properly and have said I can do activities which I cannot do.”
“I had my assessment and have had the Decision through the post and was turned down for PIP mobility I was only given standard care for three years and I need to appeal and I’m not sure how to do this”
“Results came through yesterday. The usual zero points awarded. Mobility I should perhaps score 8 points, and Daily Living around 25 points.”