12 April 2007
DLA decision makers have ditched the Disability Handbook in favour of controversial computerised medical guidance which is highly dismissive of the effects of many conditions and, in some cases, of the reliability of packs completed by claimants.

Copies of 550 pages of this guidance covering over 60 different conditions was obtained by Benefits and Work in December 2005 and can be downloaded from the members area.

Computerised decision making
A series of events were held to introduce decision makers to the new medical guidance, which had previously been used in pilot projects but was launched nationally on the DWP's internal website on 26 February 2007. The DWP claims that 'Decision Makers are making good use of the information'.

The new guidance, along with the new DLA claim packs (see Radical new DLA claim form confirmed), has been introduced as the first steps in the radical Customer Case Management system, whose aim is to allow computer software to take over a large part of the DLA decision making process. The software uses quantifiable information, such as which aids and adaptations claimants have been prescribed and when they last saw a specialist, in order to assess whether their condition is mild, moderate or severe. Their award of DLA is then based on which category they belong to.

However, as we explained in New DLA 'points' system: zero for heroes - and many others, even people with severe conditions may be awarded nothing by the computer software.

The new guidance is dismissive of the effects of many physical and mental health conditions. For example, in relation to carpal tunnel syndrome, decision makers are told:

"Even though the worst symptoms are normally experienced in the dominant hand, the degree of functional impairment would normally be minimal in the majority of cases. Specifically such individuals would normally be able to dress and undress unaided, and be able to manipulate small objects, such as buttons and zips, although there is a tendency to drop items. Aspects of main meal preparation including peeling and chopping vegetables and lifting pans are unlikely to be significantly impaired. There would normally be no significant restriction of self-care activities.[DWP emphasis]"

Many people would argue that, at the very least, a tendency to drop items is not entirely consistent with being able to safely prepare a cooked main meal. In relation to anxiety disorders, such as agoraphobia, social phobia, obsessive compulsive disorder and post traumatic stress disorder, the guidance is also highly dismissive even of people with severe conditions:

"People with a severe condition would not normally exhibit significant self-neglect. Nor is it likely that the condition would put the person or others at risk of danger
People with a severe condition would not normally have such significant functional loss that will result in a reduction of their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities."

In other words, even people with severe mental health conditions of this nature will be unlikely to be eligible for any rate of the care component of DLA in the opinion of the 'expert' writers of the guidance.

Distrust of claimants
The new medical information also encourages distrust of including those with the anxiety disorders listed above. Decision makers are warned:

'Self-assessment is the prime source of evidence, but the claim pack should be checked to see who has completed it. If the form has been filled in by the customer, due to the nature of their condition, it might not necessarily be an accurate or reliable description of their problems.'

If the claim pack has been completed on behalf of the customer, by someone who has a good understanding of his or her needs, then it could provide good evidence.'

In fact, there seems no reason at all why people with such conditions should not be able to give an accurate account of the effects of their condition. Such guidance, unless it can be substantiated, may give rise to a claim under the Disability Discrimination Act.

Download the new guidance
Benefits and Work has copies of help screens and detailed advice created by the DWP in 2005 relating to more than 60 different conditions. Guidance on other conditions has been added since that time - a recent example being the guidance relating to CFS/ME which went online in February, Members can download hundreds of pages of the new guidance.


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