Written evidence from Colin Watson (HAB0088)


Colin Watson is a Doctoral Trainee in Open Lab at Newcastle University studying how citizens access welfare benefit systems since 2018 focusing on PIP and Universal Credit: https://openlab.ncl.ac.uk/people/colin-watson/ Colin Watson is also a long-term volunteer at Shelter North East, primarily helping people complete housing and welfare benefit forms.



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

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


See response to question 7.


6. 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?


In my research with both PIP and UC claimants, people have said how they would prefer the DWP to obtain existing evidence directly from their own systems and new evidence from health service providers, but that claimants should be able to see what information is being used, be able to challenge inaccuracies or missing data, and make it clear how that information has been used to make decisions.


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

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


The earlier assessment process is 1) not interpreting the regulations correctly, or 2) making decisions on inadequate evidence, or 3) the tribunals are managing to obtain additional evidence from claimants. Both 2 and 3 would suggest claimants are not being asked for the right information, or are being asked in the wrong manner, or are unable or unwilling to provide it, or don’t know how to express their difficulties and needs. My own PIP research suggests claimants are overwhelmed by claims and assessments. Processes can be improved through process simplification, using visual cues and photography, providing flexibility and control to claimants, and by using aesthetically pleasing materials.


Source: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3313831.3376215

PIP Kit: An Exploratory Investigation into using Lifelogging to support Disability Benefit Claimants



8. 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)?


The effects of health conditions and disabilities on living, mobility and work can be quite different. There are some overlaps in terms of providing details of health professional contacts, lists of conditions and medications, but the DWP have the data already, albeit at a previous date and time. It should be made available to the claimant at their next claim/review to avoid duplication of effort.



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

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


Many people want online access, but that should also work efficiently and easily on mobile phones and tablets. Poor accessibility on phones was mentioned by many in my research with Universal Credit Online claimants.



10. 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?

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


My research with claimants has highlighted the need for all benefit services to be equally fully supported by multiple channels (voice telephone, online, paper, face-to-face), and interchangeable, allowing claimants to use the channel most appropriate at the time, for their circumstances, conditions and needs.



12. 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?

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


The DWP should ensure its systems support people's own socio-technical ecosystems, recognising claimant’s wider networks to encourage information sharing, delegated access, support help from others, and generate structured case data to support visibility and re-use by the third sector and others who help claimants.


13. 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?


My research on PIP found the use of simple diaries helped claimants better prepare to complete the form and help them understand the process.


Source: https://dl.acm.org/doi/10.1145/3313831.3376215

PIP Kit: An Exploratory Investigation into using Lifelogging to support Disability Benefit Claimants



December 2021