“Disingenuous” is a word I find I only use and use a lot when talking about the DWP.
The thought about audio-recording a WCA cropped up over a year ago and immediately gained the support of the illustrious Professor Harrington. More recently, there has been a lot of upset due to confusion over how will it work, when will it be available etc. and it has been the source of several parliamentary questions from interested MPs to the equally illustrious the Rt Hon Chris Grayling, Minister for Employment.
But before getting into DWP’s shenanigans, it is important to remember why this facility was of interest in the first place. It was simply to address the level of mistrust that ESA claimants have in the Atos healthcare professions (HCPs) that perform WCAs.
It is not about the WCA’s fitness for purpose, it is not about how well it can accommodate the nuances of complicated conditions, it is solely to address the fact that Atos HCPs cannot be trusted to accurately record a WCA – the perception is that they will add stuff in, leave stuff out and distort stuff to “justify” a particular outcome i.e. that people who may not be fit for work are passed fit for work.
Of all the criticisms of the WCA model at every level, this has to be the most damning.
However, Harrington and Grayling fairly glibly skipped over this sad indictment, seemingly content to treat symptoms rather than causes – not exact untypical. So the first sensible step was to set up a trial, which was of very limited scope in one assessment centre over a year ago – not a complicated project and one that could be set up using the standard management techniques applied to exercises like this.
In relation to where the project is now, it is actually hard to say, due to the veil DWP has drawn over it.
- The scope and rigours of the trial aside, it ran for 6 months and ended over 6 months ago, ample time you would have thought to analyse the results and make a formal, fully costed, risk assessed recommendation. Not so.
- Not only are the results N/A, but apparently none of the standard pre-project documentation was completed, let alone signed-off. There are therefore no documented objectives, success criteria, assumptions etc., etc., i.e. nothing that would allow an objective assessment to be made at the end of the trial. This is from a department that prides itself in the use of “best practice”.
- Many attempts to find out more through the FoI Act are simply being refused using an exemption often employed for information that is being used for report in preparation – you have to wait for the report itself. No publication date has been offered – it will just be released “soon”.
- Despite the fact that no results have been published and under the pressure of several parliamentary written questions, Mr Grayling has seen fit to declare the trail a success (the basis of which is still unclear) and confirm the facility is now available (to what extent is equally unclear). He has however pointed out that claimant interest in the trial was at best lukewarm. Of course with no project set-up documentation, it is impossible to judge the effectiveness of the launch and claimants would not have asked for something they had no idea existed. Also, novices attending their very first WCA would be oblivious to the deceptions that take place and would generally not request a recording anyway.
- The Atos CEO has publicly declared that from his point of view that all of Professor Harrington’s recommendations are complete and technically he is probably right – the issues with this now sit with DWP.
- Mr Grayling has boasted likewise, but is clearly using a very loose definition of “implementation”. [DWP does in fact have its own dictionary where words do not have their accepted meaning]
- Updates to reference and training manuals, publications etc. have not yet been released and existing documentation makes no mention of this facility.
- No announcement has been made, so the vast majority of people will be blissfully unaware.
- Rumour has it that there is currently only one recorder that is couriered around the country as needed. It records the two CDs needed simultaneously.
- The key issue of whether or not DWP will accept a recording as evidence at any stage is also not clear. The limited pre-trial information (which DWP is trying to disown) indicates they were only prepared to treat it as an aide memoire for claimants – something you could take home as a memory jogger, nothing more.
So, if you do want a session recorded, the safest bet is to advise Atos & DWP (also not clear who to tell so best to tell both) as soon as you get your WCA appointment letter, to give them maximum time to arrange or rearrange the appointment if need be. This way the delay can’t be attributed to you (http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/wca_audio_recordings_3).
There is much discussion about claimants recording for themselves – openly or surreptitiously and again the rules are not yet clear. There are questions about legality over the latter, but as far as I can see it is not illegal per se as long as it is for private use only – but note, IANAL (I Am Not A Lawyer).
The existing published rules say that the HCP has to agree to be recorded and can cancel the WCA – who the cancellation is attributable is not clear (take nothing for granted) (see http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/wca_audio_recordings_4)
What is patently obvious is that DWP does not want to take this forward. The natural suspicion is that this is because doing so would confirm that Atos cannot be trusted and DWP cannot be trusted to do anything about it.
Sadly, it will undoubtedly slow things down and increase costs , but that is the price of treating symptoms not causes – just add it to the escalating costs associated with this outsourcing decision.
It might be anticipated that the DWP will take every opportunity to scupper it. The first ploy might be to play it down/keep it quiet so demand will be low, allowing the claim that low demand means it is not cost effective.
It is important, then, to broadcast the availability of this opportunity as widely as you can. It would be interesting if the opposite was produced: instant massive demand that Atos cannot cope with, forcing an even bigger backlog of assessments.
PS: I have included here a few links to related FoI Act requests, but there are many others.
PPS: I find I have reached the end and not used that wretched word once – how odd!
PPPS: If for this (and in fact any other) reason through no fault of the claimant, a WCA is delayed beyond the initial 13 weeks, following a recent court judgement DWP has to increase the ESA rate to WRAG – it can only apply the “assessment rate” for 13 weeks max (http://tia-junior.blogspot.co.uk/2012/04/important-esa-payment-decision.html).