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The Independent Case Examiner (ICE) is failing to defend claimants who seek its help. ICE fully upheld complaints against PIP and ESA/UC assessment providers in just a dismal 6% of the cases it investigated, according to its latest annual report.

ICE examines complaints from the public after they have already made a complaint to a body such as the DWP or its sub-contractors, such as Atos or Capita. It can make recommendations about ways in which an organisation should change its procedures and also award compensation to the person complaining.

Just getting to ICE is likely to take many months, as the claimant has to prove that they have fully exhausted the complaints process of the organisation they are complaining about, no matter how much that organisation might delay and drag its feet.

There will then be another lengthy wait whilst ICE decide whether the complaint is one they can investigate. Then ICE has to gather evidence and try to resolve the issue without an investigation having to take place.

In relation to complaints about assessment providers, ICE says rather dismissively:

“Most of the Health Assessment Provider complaints we receive are about the assessment that has been carried out or the report written about that for DWP, and many follow an unfavourable benefit entitlement decision. In others in which an appeal is subsequently upheld I often explain that this doesn’t mean the original decision was maladministrative. . . The majority of complaints are about the content of the assessment report, usually about perceived errors and inaccuracies. However on the whole, such complaints generally stem from a difference of opinion with the Healthcare Professional writing the report, and don’t change the outcome of the assessment.”

This perception that many claimants simply don’t understand how the system works may explain why, out of 206 investigations into assessment providers:

  • only 13 (6%) of complaints were upheld
  • 31 (15%) were partially upheld
  • 162 (79%) were not upheld at all.
  • Several examples of ICE’s work are given:

“Mr S complained that the report produced following his PIP assessment was not an accurate reflection of his responses at the assessment. I found that the Health Assessment Provider had fully investigated Mr S’s concerns and that they had clearly explained to him at each complaint stage that the report was an accurate reflection of the assessment. Furthermore, my office had listened to an audio recording of the assessment and we were satisfied that the report reflected the responses that he gave. I did not uphold Mr S complaint.”

In another example, the assessment provider got away with allowing CCTV evidence to be destroyed by time wasting, taking over 7 months to respond to a complaint, and were subject to just a “consolatory payment” of £150 to the claimant. With this level of sanction, assessment providers have absolutely no reason to fear ICE.

Elsewhere in the report there is the case of a claimant who had their PIP wrongly stopped for three months just for being in hospital for two nights. The DWP originally made a consolatory payment of £50 to the claimant and ICE choose to only make the department pay an additional £50.

In relation to universal credit ICE explains that:

“Some of the complaints I see arise quite literally from a customer’s move to UC, including misadvice and misdirection clearly caused simply by DWP staff being unfamiliar with the provisions of UC and how it works. This has included customers being advised to claim UC to their detriment, when staying on tax credits would have been better for them, and other errors in transferring customers who have been on ESA to UC with the unintended loss of their work capability premiums.”

Although in some UC cases the consolatory payments were £500, these are still tiny amounts when compared to the extreme hardship some claimants have been put through. And they do nothing to discourage the DWP from making the same mistakes over and over again.

Whilst it is still probably worth complaining to ICE, it is clear that this is not a body that is likely to have much success in changing the way that the DWP operates.

The Independent Case Examiner for the Department for Work and Pensions: annual report 1 April 2019 to 31 March 2020 can be downloaded here.

Comments  

#2 DianaW 2020-11-04 17:22
The ICE is funded by the Department of Work and Pensions, so it's very far from being independent.

I was struck - unfavourably - by the repeated use of the pronoun "I" -  in the comments quoted and tried to understand why that was used instead of "we".

The ICE is an office, not just one person, although it has apparently been [headed by] the same person for at least six years, since April 2013. That's someone called Joanna Wallace; see https://www.gov.uk/government/news/joanna-wallace-reappointed-as-independent-case-examiner. She is "supported by a team based in Liverpool", although it's not clear whether anyone other than she actually decides on complaints. The use of "I" makes that sound unlikely.
https://www.gov.uk/government/organisations/independent-case-examiner/about states that she "is not a civil servant and is not employed by the Department for Work and Pensions". Her previous roles include "Chief Executive of the Christie NHS Trust Manchester,
Director of Spire Manchester Hospital [and] lay member of the Sentencing Advisory Panel" (see https://www.gov.uk/government/people/joanna-wallace) but no academic and/or professional qualifications are given.

I would have expected a quasi-judicial role such as this to be filled by a qualified lawyer with considerable experience in private practice but the absence of any such information makes that seem unlikely to be the case. She may not be employed by the DWP or the civil service but merely being an independent contractor for tax purposes (which is the obvious alternative) provides no reassurance at all that she has any ability to remain independent of the department which funds her office.
+2 #1 mrfibrospondodysthmatic 2020-11-03 15:24
I guess the ICE are in league, and right pally with the DWP.

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