Written evidence from Gillian Burnell (HAB003)


Suitability of assessments

  1. How could DWP improve the quality of assessments for health-related benefits?

By using the evidence from GPs, OTs, Physios, and Complementary Therapists, at the start of the process. These seem to be ignored because they aren’t mentioned during the face to face interviews. Have the person doing the assessment be an expert in the physical and /or mental health issues affecting the applicant. Making sure they are open-minded before the assessment rather than being ready to find a way to refuse payment.

  1. Have you seen any specific improvements in the process since the Committee last reported on PIP and ESA assessments, in 2018?

Not applicable to me.

  1. Are there any international examples of good practice that the Department could draw on to improve the application and assessment processes for health-related benefits?

Unknown to me.

  1. Do the descriptors for PIP accurately assess functional impairment? If not, how should they be changed?

Not really. We have the attitude “I can manage” in order to keep going from day to day while suffering pain, fatigue, anxiety etc, but we are forced to switch our thinking to what we can’t do, and this is demoralising. To ‘prove’ how badly I was affected I kept a diary for a month before my application, and it forced me to think about my pain, where it was, what it stopped me doing, and how it made me feel. Consequently my pain levels rose, I became depressed and felt like giving up before I’d started. Often having a ‘positive mental attitude’ is the only treatment available apart from painkillers, and that soon disappears when you are forced to prove to someone, who you believe is not interested in helping you, that what you live with day by day, is real and debilitating. It’s humiliating. That isn’t what the descriptors are asking about.

  1. Do the descriptors for ESA accurately assess claimants’ ability to work? If not, how should they be changed?

Not applicable to me.

  1. DLA (for children under the age of 16) and Attendance Allowance usually use paper-based rather than face-to-face assessments. How well is this working?

Not applicable to me.

  1. Before PIP replaced DLA for adults, DLA was also assessed using a paper-based system. What were the benefits and drawbacks of this approach?

I’ve applied under both systems and DLA turned me down, and the Tribunal took 12 months, due to difficulties getting a panel together. It was awful. Finally seeing real people was such a relief, especially as they were appalled that I’d been turned down as, in their words, “You can hardly walk”. I was awarded DLA high rate mobility ‘for the foreseeable future’. Until PIP was introduced and I had to go through the system again from the start. Luckily (!) I was then having to use a wheelchair so they awarded me high rate mobility and standard care.

  1. How practical would it be for DWP’s decision makers to rely on clinician input, without a separate assessment, to make decisions on benefit entitlement? What are the benefits and the drawbacks of such an approach?

As most applicants obtain a letter of support from their GP, at a cost of £25 upwards, this should be taken as extremely good evidence for the basis of the claim. If an assessor could be a GP, with expertise in a claimant’s illness, then whoop-de-do! Drawbacks, for the DWP’s outsourced assessment companies would be cost though, so not likely to happen.

  1. Appeals data shows that, for some health-related benefits, up to 76% of tribunals find in favour of the claimant. Why is that?

Because the assessors have been known to lie, to write false statements, and to have no knowledge of the conditions applicants can be suffering from. This has led to accusations of them working to an agenda of only ‘letting’ so many applications per month/year being allowed the award of benefits.

  1. What could DWP change earlier in the process to ensure that fewer cases go to appeal?

Stop handing out lucrative contracts to private companies who exist purely to make money for their investors! They will always put their investors’ interests ahead of the welfare of benefits applicants. It isn’t rocket science.

  1. Is there a case for combining the assessment processes for different benefits? If not, how else could the Department streamline the application processes for people claiming more than one benefit (eg. PIP and ESA)?

Yes if the claimant is applying for 2 or more benefits. It would be safeguarding the mental health of the claimant. I don’t know enough about the other benefits to know whether the end results are the same.

  1. What are your views on the Department’s “Health Transformation Programme”? What changes would you like to see under the programme?

I’d like them to stop changing everything ever few years! Are the DWP intent on making everyone jump through hoops every couple of years? Each time the benefits system has been changed in the past, ‘in order to streamline the system and save money’, it ends up costing more money, making huge amounts of money for private companies, and further demonising disabled people. I think the ethos needs to change. Take private companies out of the loop, stop assuming most benefits applicants are cheats (only approximately 3% cheat), and start understanding that those living with disabilities would rather have a normal life, not needing financial support, instead of living a very difficult life every single day!

  1. (For people claiming) Would you like to be able to manage your benefit claim online?

Only if it wasn’t the only option.

  1. What would be the benefits and drawbacks of DWP bringing assessments “in house”, rather than contracting them to external organisations (Capita, Atos and Maximus)? In particular, would this help to increase trust in the process?

It would be seen as a positive step in the right direction. Nobody likes to think that their claim for a benefit that could give them a chance of living a better life, is also lining the coffers of a company making money out of their misery.

  1. The impact of the pandemic
  1. What lessons should the Department learn from the way that it handled claims for health-related benefit claims during the pandemic: for example, relying to a greater extent on paper-based assessments, or using remote/telephone assessments?

No comment as not applicable to me.

  1. Is there a case for making some of the changes permanent?

See above.

  1. Most assessments for Industrial Injuries Disablement Benefit were suspended during the pandemic. What has been the impact on people trying to claim IIDB?

Not applicable to me.

  1. Some IIDB claimants will receive a lower award than they might have, due to the suspension of assessments, because IIDB awards are linked to age. Should the Department compensate these claimants? How?

Of course they should be compensated. The pandemic wasn’t their fault so they shouldn’t have suffered.

  1. What lessons could the Department learn for how it deals with these claims in future, in the event of further disruption to normal services?

Have a system in place that could be rolled out immediately. And don’t get rid of the system because some cost-cutting exercise says “It won’t happen again”.

  1. DWP believes that applications for some benefits dropped sharply at the start of the pandemic because claimants weren’t able to access support (for example, from third sector organisations) to complete their applications. What are the implications of this for how the Department ensures people are able to access health-related benefits consistently?

Don’t make applications so complex, and so demoralising, that those in need of the benefits find themselves completely paralysed by the need to spend days worrying about the application while being terrified of becoming more ill by catching a virus. Perhaps the time between applying for the application form, and returning it, can be extended during a crisis, taking the stress levels down a notch.

  1. How can the Department best help the third sector to support claimants in their applications?

? The ‘third sector’? Do you mean the private companies doing the assessments? If so then you can take away their contracts if more than, say, 3% of the Tribunal claims are overturned or they make profits of more than, say, £20,000 per annum. That’ll soon turn things around.

The impact of assessment/application on claimants

  1. DWP recently published research on the impact of applying for PIP or ESA on claimants’ mental and physical health. What would be the best way of addressing this?

Do the decent thing and take the assessment process in house, remember that 97% of applications are genuine, and stop wasting money on changing the whole system every few years!

Waits for assessments

  1. What could the Department to do to shorten waits for health-related benefit assessments—especially for ESA/UC?

Not applicable to me, but I suggest you set a maximum time limit on getting a claim processed, and ensure it’s adhered to.

  1. How effectively does the “assessment rate” for ESA cover disabled peoples’ living costs while they wait for an assessment? Is there a case for introducing an assessment rate for other health-related benefits?

Not applicable to me.

Health assessments in the devolved administrations

  1. The Scottish Government intends to introduce its own assessment process for the Adult Disability Payment, which will replace PIP in Scotland from 2022. What could DWP learn from the approach of the Scottish Government?

No idea. How about watching what happens?

a. PIP started rolling out in Northern Ireland in 2016. Is there evidence that the Department learned from the experience of rolling out PIP in the rest of the UK?

Policy development

16. How effectively does DWP work with stakeholders—including disabled people—to develop policy and monitor operational concerns about health-related benefits?

a. What steps could the Department take to improve its engagement with stakeholders?


October 2021

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