PIP claimants are suffering physical and emotional pain, humiliation and failed claims by being forced to endure the wrong sort of PIP assessment, a survey of over 3,000 Benefits and Work users has shown. The DWP must respond to calls to let claimants choose between telephone and face-to-face assessments, as soon as the latter become available again.

Meanwhile, we are updating our guides to help members challenge the result of inappropriate assessment.

Survey results

Last month, we asked readers which you would prefer if given a choice, a telephone assessment or a face-to-face one.

We deliberately didn’t include an assessment on paper as we consider that the chances of the DWP offering this as a choice for claimants to make, rather than solely an option the DWP can select, are currently extremely slim.

A total of 3069 people completed the survey.

Of these 29% had a physical health condition, 14% a mental health issue and 57% both.

At first, the telephone assessment was a very clear leader, but as more results came in, the numbers began to even up.

The final result was 55% would choose a telephone assessment and 45% face-to-face.

But this can be broken down further.

A majority of claimants with a mental health condition favoured a telephone assessment. The results were: telephone 60%, face-to-face 40%

Conversely, there was a small majority of claimants with a physical health condition in favour of face-to-face. The votes were telephone 48%, face-to-face 52%

For claimants with both a physical health and a mental health condition, the results were a clear majority for telephone assessments. The results were: telephone 57%, face-to-face 43%

But this doesn’t tell the full story, by any means. Because within each group there are claimants who would be strongly disadvantaged by an assessment method that others would prefer, as respondents comments made clear.

Your comments

Almost 1,500 people left a comment as well as voting.

We have included a limited selection below, though it still runs to well over 4,000 words.

Some of the comments are harrowing. The degree of shame and humiliation that many claimants experience, especially during face-to-face assessments, makes difficult reading

What was absolutely clear was that for many respondents, the type of assessment can make a dramatic difference to their chances of giving accurate evidence.

For some people, the physical pain or psychological trauma of attending an assessment centre leaves them too exhausted or distressed to give accurate evidence. They will not give a clear account of their condition and the assessment will be flawed as a result.

For others, the effect of the additional medication they have to take to manage the journey means that they present very differently to how they would on an average day.

For these claimants, a telephone assessment is likely to produce more accurate results.

Some claimants with mental health conditions, however, struggle to deal with telephone calls. They may become terse and uncommunicative, saying whatever it takes to end the call as quickly as possible. But their anxiety and distress will be invisible to the assessor, who will fail to assess them accurately.

Some will simply not answer the phone and are likely to have their claim stopped altogether.

And some claimants have physical health conditions whose effects are much more easy to see than they are to explain over the phone. Again, the wrong sort of assessment will lead to inaccurate scoring.

Offer choice

Individual claimants are best placed to know what sort of assessment will allow them to give detailed and accurate evidence, so offering a choice will lead to better reports and fewer appeals.

And it’s no good simply assuming that all claimants with a particular type of condition will favour the same assessment method.

People with the same condition may have very different requirements.

This was made especially apparent by the large number of claimants on the autism spectrum who left comments. We have reproduced a selection of these at the end of this article because they show how varied the response to assessments is.

A campaign is currently being run by Mind asking people to contact their MP to ask for claimants to be given a choice in how they are assessed. We would recommend joining the campaign.

Clearly, at present face-to-face is not an option. But as time passes, the likelihood of this method being reintroduced grows. When it is, it will probably be done without consultation or warning. So, it is best to take action now.

Updating our guides

Which is why, over the next week, we will be updating our members only guide to Ways To Challenge a PIP Medical Report to include challenges based on the inappropriateness of the type of assessment. We will include sample texts to help you to challenge a report on this basis

We will also be updating the PIP claims guide with sample texts you can include in your PIP2 ‘How your disability affects you’ form, specifying the type of assessment that would be most appropriate for you.

Again, this will become more important if face-to-face assessments are reintroduced without warning, possibly after you return your form but before an assessment has been booked.

The main advantages of a telephone assessment

From amongst the many comments we received, we have tried to identify some themes for why people preferred one form of assessment over another. We have edited the comments only to correct obvious spelling errors, where we felt leaving them in would distract from the content.

Warning: some of the contributions may be distressing for some readers.

There is no long and exhausting journey with possibly a lengthy wait at the assessment centre.
Because just getting there is so stressful and painful, you feel exhausted before you even begin, and that hampers your ability to answer the questions clearly and accurately.

Telephone would be my choice as I have fairly severe mobility issues and find traveling to, and waiting around at assessments challenging, difficult and very painful.

I am in so much pain to travel the distance and to be sat around waiting for ages where I could wet myself if not near to the toilet or the toilet is in use. Also the pain I’m in is terrible and to be somewhere unfamiliar where I’m unable to sit and try to get comfortable

The difficulty for me to even get to a centre to undertake the assessment, is in itself the greatest challenge of all. The action of the agencies the DWP use, to turn the whole process against you for even getting there in the first place and the negation of how difficult it was & the negative impact on your welfare and disregard for it, is utterly criminal.

Avoiding the exhaustion and stress of attending the assessment centre and waiting around in their crowded dingy uncomfortable waiting room where you have to ask to use a toilet

The stress of dealing with these things is for me, completely overwhelming and leads to an sharp increase in all my conditions. Multiple arthritis sites all get more painful, I don't sleep, IBS becomes uncontrollable etc. Constant panic. I had an ESA telephone assessment and although I got in a bit of a state- not having to go through the added physical pain and mental anguish of travel just to get bombarded with questions is a no brainer. I have lots of medical evidence of my degenerative disease so an assessment is pointless, especially a face to face one.

Less stress planning and going out. Organising someone to go with me. Expense of travel. Having to get ready having to interact with people.

the thought of going out and travelling for a face to face is what causes me to have panic attack and have suicidal thoughts etc .

I have problems leaving my home and my daughter has to accompany me to assessments which is not always possible- I can’t always make myself go to appointments and risk being sanctioned so telephone assessments would make my life much easier but before lock down I couldn’t opt for this

Face-to-face causes anxiety when it a familiar place with familiar people. Face-to-face with a stranger in a new place gives me a panic attack. You wouldn't be as insensitive to ask someone who can't walk to meet you at the running track for a job interview for example. This is the same as asking someone who has panic attacks in pressured and unfamiliar environments to attend one for assessment

everyone should be offered the chance of a phone assessment. they could be someone like me who suffers side effects from their medication and left with a very 'high' feeling which when travelling on a bus makes you feel worse and leaves you at risk in the outside world as you are not fully aware of your body movements and could end up under a bus etc. or your illness causes such pain you just cannot get out of bed on the day of assessment but have no choice but to travel and then suffer in pain from walking to the assessment. they just don’t think of people properly and i know from experience it isn’t nice to be in vast pain , get to the assessment centre, struggling with every step you take and nearly getting hit by a car cos you staggered into the road, ( and got called a drunk and disgrace cos its only 8 30 am) and then when you arrive get told your appointment is cancelled!! yes it happened to me and i had to return later that same day, so that made me even worse health-wise having to do everything twice.. make phone assessments a first choice for everyone

The assessor cannot make assumptions about you based on your appearance.
I look very well & I’m fed up of the assessor making me go to tribunal on their “informal observations”!

It makes bizarre assessments of whether I am 'well groomed' obsolete. Given that PIP is available in work, I'm not sure how relevant a question it is. Especially when I wasn't well groomed at all!

I'd just feel more comfortable. Also (this was at an appeal, but I was obviously marked down because my hair looked as though I'd combed it!) The awfulness of not knowing if you're supposed to turn up looking miserable in scruffy clothes to be believed, when your instincts for any day, but especially for a formal meeting, are to look as nice/well groomed as possible...

It's very draining going to face-to-face assessments. Also it's horrible waiting in the waiting room, as well as the fact that the assessors and people in reception are monitoring your every move, and will use that in their assessment. How well do you walk? How do you hold yourself? Do you look sufficiently upset? It makes you much more self-conscious and paranoid. Easier and less stressful to do over the phone. Also can rest much more easily during the assessment.

When people see me they assume I am a healthy looking able bodied person. My disability is hidden, so I get judged straight away eg when displaying g my blue badge. Hence, I'd prefer telephone assessment.

The assessor cannot claim that they observed you doing things that you did not, in reality, do.
When I had my last face to face assessment the assessor made up things that I’d said I couldn’t do , saying I did them. She said I’d dragged to chair around to find a better position. I didn’t, I couldn’t, I just sat in it where it was. That is one example that would be unable to be said if it was over the telephone.

I find Face to Face assessments intimidating, they sent a man to my house to ask personal questions and I hated answering toilet problems to his face, then he went a lied about things he has 'observed' that he didn't observe, such as picking my cup of tea up with ease with my right arm, when my arm was in a sling the whole time.

Limits the use of unreliable observational evidence on mobility etc. Makes covert recording far easier.

My PIP was refused and apart from the usual tripe they put in the reports they stated that i was able to open a bottle of water (i carry a small twister thing that loosens tops they assumed i did it by hand) they also stated whilst i was waiting that i was able to read a magazine and do a crossword, what they didn't mention was that i had to hold the magazine right up to my eyes to read it. Also they stated i could walk with a stick 17 metres to the interview room, and surmised i could walk 50 metres, also when i got there i was told there would be a 2 hour wait i also had a long wait when i went for a WCA same reason short of staff, i believe this is done on purpose so they can watch what you do while waiting. If the assessment is done on the phone none of this will be taken into account which i think will make the assessment fairer

A telephone assessment may feel less demeaning.
I am able to provide clear paper based evidence of my disability and feel a telephone interview would be sufficient for a decision to be made. I have had to be physically examined by many strangers since childhood and the experience has become increasingly difficult for me, triggers many memories and now I find myself feeling emotional distress at the prospect of exposing my deformed body. Crying in front of a stranger feels humiliating and makes it hard for me to admit the extent of my disability which I can see would be a barrier to an accurate assessment.

As appointee for my daughter, I conducted her telephone assessment in her place. Although we are still awaiting the results, it was far less stressful than any f2f assessments either of us have ever had. Plus it lacked the feeling of being glared at throughout and ‘judged’ (as I’m sure many fellow claimants can relate to).

A face to face assessment would be the best because a number of symptoms of my MS would be visible as would probably symptoms of my my depression and anxiety. However because of previous experience of a face to face for pip I would choose telephone. The so called health professional, an ambulance lady assessing my MS, had no knowledge of my condition, no understanding of the symptoms or variability of them and ignored what I had previously sent in to her. Her report was shocking which I challenged and won but at the expense of my health. My mobility continues to worsen as well making it increasingly difficult for me to visit their centres. In addition I do not wish to visit these centres that have DWP centre all over the front with massive signs. It’s as if they are trying to shame you for claiming. Their is no privacy in walking in to such marked centres. That is why I would probably choose the telephone option.

A telephone assessment is less intimidating and not as humiliating when you don't have to look your interrogator in the face.

It is so daunting walking into the centre and I feel they are judging me

Because it is far more dignified approach to claimants. And no travelling required .....PERFECT

Face-to-face is exhausting, intimidating and humiliating.

A telephone assessment may be less stressful and damaging
I suffered a total breakdown after the lead up to my face-to-face assessment. That was before I got the result. I was given an award but by then I was so ill and I still (15 years later) suffer a panic attack if a brown envelope comes through the door. Cannot do face to face as I’m too full of anxiety and can’t respond appropriately when I take more meds when I tried I was too drowsy

I've begged them to do a telephone assessment in the past, as the face to face ones make me self-harm and there's nothing to actually look at since all my problems are mental health- related. They're basically choosing to torture me just so they can see me suffer and then lie about it on the report.

It’s so scary to me attending these face to face assessments as my mental health makes me very unpredictable and violent at times. I can always hang up the phone when stressed, rather than shout at or attack someone who is just doing their job. Telephone would be much more helpful for me.

I ticked the telephone option. This was based on my recent experience. I became overwhelmed with extreme debilitating trauma when facing my up coming face to face assessment. I was left too unwell to attend. I felt totally unable to leave my house, so I didnt go. The telephone assessment I was recently offered, as a replacement, needed me to do alot of work to be able to take the call, but it was the only option I had left. It did go ahead and was a better experience for me, by the fact I was able to be assessed. Ironically I feel my ability to take the call will no doubt impact on my Pip award result, which I havent had yet.

An assessment is extremely stressful and my carer/partner has to get me psyched up for it. The one telephone assessment (PIP) I had was less stressful than the 2 face-to-face assessments (1 ESA, 1 PIP) I have had in the past.

You may find it easier to talk about difficult issues over the phone rather than in person.
I ticked the telephone option. This was based on my recent experience. I became overwhelmed with extreme debilitating trauma when facing my up-coming face to face assessment. I was left too unwell to attend. I felt totally unable to leave my house, so I didnt go. The telephone assessment I was recently offered, as a replacement, needed me to do alot of work to be able to take the call, but it was the only option I had left. It did go ahead and was a better experience for me, by the fact I was able to be assessed. Ironically I feel my ability to take the call will no doubt impact on my Pip award result, which I havent had yet.

I get very self-conscious in such situations and my appearance ‘presents’ well, so people seem to find it difficult to believe I am struggling. I feel it is fairer to be heard rather than judged on my appearance. Also I have ADHD and am very likely to get timings wrong for appointments so it’s better if they ring me rather than me forgetting to turn up for an appointment. Also it can be a traumatic experience having to intimately discuss my condition in detail so I prefer the security of my own home.

Face to face I put on a persona as if I’m fine when I’m dying inside. I didn’t get any points for my mental health for this reason and I think a phone call would help me better be myself.

The main advantages of a face-to-face assessment.

These are some of the reasons that some respondents said that they would choose to have a face-to-face assessment.

The assessor can see the difficulty that you experience with physical activities.
There's just no way to tell on the phone how bad a physical disability is. I need them to see how I move to understand the problems I face every day.

As it is physical health condition i would like them to see how bad i am at moving about. I could not show then how i am at that time if it was telephone assessment.

I've gone through a few face to face with no problems, first telephone interview, shambles! Benefits cut, possible payback because they may have paid me too much etc, etc. I feel like a complete fraud after reading the result. Face to face, by a professional, was so much easier. And reliable. I'm now quite literally, stuck at home all the time. I did have a car but now it is going and I can't get anywhere.

Just had a phone assessment and they left out vital parts of my mental health along with mobility I got the standard rate £58 pw, going to appeal against this. (stroke)

The HCP at Face to Face gives you a physical examination Blood pressure cardio Aural and sight tests mobility etc ..by phone does not...So Face to face is my choice.

The assessor can see if you are anxious and struggling to communicate.
Body language was vital to my successful appeal. It was remarked upon (nervousness, anxiety). This would in no way be possible over the telephone

I've just had a telephone assessment and have lost my enhanced mobility, just 18 months after getting it. I'm sure if they saw me at a face to face they would see what state I get in whilst outside. Now have to go through this horrible process of MR and Appeal.

I was awarded standard PIP on mental health grounds. One of the points made by the assessor in support of my claim was that I had poor eye contact. Obviously this kind of issue would not be obvious in a telephone conversation.

In a face to face assessment the assessor would be able to see the anxiety this caused somebody. My son hardly ever goes out and this is a large part of his claim. On a telephone assessment my son would say anything to get off the line as quickly as possible since he doesn't handle telephone calls well at all.

I am relatively articulate and this seems to work against me. If they can see my shaking and my anxiety then it helps to convey the difficulties I have, which include communicating when stressed. On the phone it would probably just be a silence and a non-score for some questions.

I am not confident talking to strangers on the telephone and would probably agree with everything they say and let them put words into my mouth that are incorrect.

I 'freeze up' get 'tongue tied' and cannot think straight when using telephones. Without realising, i speak to loudly to people on phone calls, those who don't know me think i am being belligerent or angry. I am not but I struggle to hear clearly and always automatically assume others can't hear me, so I try to compensate by raising my voice which unfortunately gives the wrong impression to those who don't know me.

Because I had a telephone assessment and the nurse was not able to see me physically struggling and my mental health psychotic panic attacks and I had to put in a MR last week

I wasn't able to adequately display my physical issues over the phone and as stated in my Capita telephone assessment, 'the client showed no symptoms of anxiety or socialisation issues whilst speaking with the assessor. Therefore, we assume that the client does not require help in this section' I suffer with anxiety and panic attacks, not only brought on by my epilepsy but by agoraphobia, being in crowds and the thought of speaking on the phone. My Capita telephone assessment did not correlate at all to what my life troubles are.

Several people I know have had phone assessments and scored very low. One was told 'you Managed the call without support', even they were self-isolating and had phone support to prepare, but no access to support during the call. I can take an advocate to a face to face assessment.

It’s a difficult one. I struggle to be around people and to be in the same room as a complete stranger does severe damage to my mental health for days to come, but I feel like they have to see that in me, or they’ll just dismiss it.

You can see how the assessor is responding to what you say and be sure that they are paying attention.
Although I hate having face to face assessments, I'd rather that the assessor saw me and saw the problems I have. It's also good to see the assessor too. Watching their body language is useful for clues as to whether they have taken all that I've told them, onboard. It's also good to be able to check that they are checking and reading the evidence I've submitted.

Although face-to-face assessments are an ordeal, I think eye contact and body language are essential, both for the claimant to express fully how their conditions impact on their daily life and to gauge the 'response' or understanding of the assessor.

A telephone assessment would be too impersonal for me to get my point of view across as it would feel like I was talking to a machine.

Assessors can't see any non-verbal communication + you can't see theirs especially if they are indicating in body language they don't believe you. You cannot see if they are listening properly or understand what you are saying. It is harder for a support person to contribute by phone. Phone lines can be poor especially if on mobile. They might claim they have phoned when they haven't + you can't prove it.

I like to look the HP in the eyes. See their reaction and how they conduct themself s. I ask them to look at me when asking me a question. These things you cannot do over the Phone.

I would prefer a face to face assessment because I feel I cannot express myself over the phone, I tend to get flustered, Also you cannot tell if the assessor fully understand you.

You can assess the situation better when in face to face meeting by body language etc

I feel the need to see the interviewers' reactions, to question and if necessary challenge their statements and to read their body language. I would find a telephone assessment much easier to manage but all in all I trust my own judgement in a face to face situation.

I think body language of the assessor is an important part of the assessment. Making sure they have looked at the evidence submitted and actually read the application form is more difficult by phone

For claimants who are deaf or hearing impaired communication face-to-face may be the only option.
I am deaf and use hearing aids. I struggle on the phone, as I cannot distinguish consonants. I need face-face to enable me to hear and lip read together.

I am extremely deaf but with speech. A telephone assessment would be ridiculous as I cannot lip read over the telephone!

If you are like myself Profoundly Deaf and has a serious problem with Hearing and needs to Lip Read you cannot use Telephone Assessments. There must be Hundreds or even Thousands of Disabled People who are in this same position.

A face-to-face assessment cannot be sprung upon you like a telephone assessment may be.
Can stay at home, and chances are it would be at allocated time. I have Asperger’s and also visually impaired.

Can't cope with the uncertainty of when they are going to call, and my support person would have to be waiting on hand too. Much prefer to have a set appointment time, no matter how stressful that is.

In a face to face assessment you have more time to prepare. Whereas by telephone we heard accounts of DWP just phoning people out of the blue and expecting claimants to answer questions unprepared

You can be reasonably certain of the confidentiality of the interview, which is not always the case where an assessor is working from home.
Privacy. Who knows who is listening to a telephone conversation, especially if it’s in the assessors home.

I don’t like the thought of the telephone assessments because I have heard reports that they work from home and people have heard back room noises which tell me there is other people listening in

Just had mine today! Was fairly painless, though the girl at the end of the phone had hay fever and was interrupted briefly by someone entering the room! Will know better when I get the DWP decision!

I would want to be able to see who was listening to my private information after hearing stories about people working from home having family members in the room during telephone Assessments

I would not trust the assessor to be in a confidential place on a telephone. How would I know. who else was in the room?

Autism spectrum

Finally, we have included some of the many responses we received from people on the autism spectrum, to show how having the same broad diagnosis does not mean you have the same preference when it comes to being assessed.

I had a telephone assessment a couple of months ago. I am autistic with learning and communication difficulties, I live alone and have no support. All this was on my forms yet I had no notice of the call and was clearly out of my depth. Because of this some of my answers were led by the assessor because I couldn’t explain which affected the results. One of the criteria for a diagnosis of ASD is communication difficulties yet I was awarded 0 points on this. A face to face assessment (or at least prior notice) would have given me a chance so they get to see how I behave and react to the situation instead of guessing. I also think that they need to employ assessors who know about the conditions of the people they are assessing. i have autism and I do not always understand what I am being asked.

[Telephone assessment] Gave time to think what I wanted to say. Felt less pressured as an autistic person despite thinking I would find it more stressful as I don’t like using the phone.

Autism makes it difficult to understand and explain things. Need someone with me in this.

Due to anxiety I am unable to answer the phone, this relates to my autism condition

Social interaction is a major factor of my Autism, a face to face assessment would be an obvious indication of my disability.

I cannot use a phone, cannot think quick enough, often don’t get meaning of question correct. Lady who came to assess me for pip at my house was kind and could see I got confused and found words hard to find and say - telephone can’t see that. Am autistic

Because of my autistic spectrum disorder and mental health issues I would not have to fight for a home assessment so having a telephone assessment would take the pressure off me.

Cannot use a telephone due to being autistic AND i need a social worker or CPN with me. Telephone would be no good at all.

Part of my disability (autism) is that I can't cope with the phone. The idea of the combined horror of a PIP assessment and a phone call is beyond imagining.

I am the appointee for my Autistic daughter. I also work. For my convenience and the sake of her mental health, telephony is better. Have had a home visit where the write up by the so called professional was a fabrication of falsehoods. We have also had experience of medical boarding centre, which reduced my daughter to a quivering mess, however the HCP was so much more understanding and made a more reasoned report. I personally think it is who does the assessment, rather where or how (in my daughter's case). For your information I am a decision maker with DWP (not PIP or ESA PCA) and find the whole process from claim completion to medical unbelievably stressful and confusing, so how on earth anyone else manages to copy with the system is beyond me.

I have Aspergers as well as many other health conditions and find both face to face and telephone very difficult but telephone more so as I cannot bear talking on the phone to people I do not know


Write comments...
or post as a guest
Loading comment... The comment will be refreshed after 00:00.
  • Thank you for your comment. Comments are moderated before being published.
    A · 8 months ago
    I came here for practical help. My mental health is declining after the assessment. I had to expose my soul. I felt emotionally and mentally exposed, naked , answering questions about showering, how often. Cooking how often. What do I do when panicking? Do I stand still or do I sit down on the street or do I pace back and forth. The woman showed no feelings no empathy despite her saying at the beginning she’s been nurse for 30 years or something. No how are you doing. She was like a rob
We use cookies

We use cookies on our website. Some of them are essential for the operation of the site, while others help us to improve this site and the user experience (tracking cookies). You can decide for yourself whether you want to allow cookies or not. Please note that if you reject them, you may not be able to use all the functionalities of the site.