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DWP “dishonesty” exposed by benefits survey

Local benefits advice agency HARC has published the results of a survey undertaken by Julie Eason, an independent consultant working in East Sussex. HARC has been undertaking these surveys since 2010, on average every two years.

In the latest survey HARC – Hastings Advice and Representation Centre – interviewed 100 of its clients, mainly people receiving benefits for disability or sickness, about the service they received from HARC and how they were managing in light of the welfare reforms.

The survey showed:

  • 96% of clients rated the service from HARC as better than good, 89% of clients described it as excellent.
  • 51% of people are unable to make their money last the month.
  • 21% of people have been unable to turn on their gas and electricity due to financial hardship.
  • 50% of parents surveyed described sending their children to school in too small shoes, or shoes with holes in.
  • 44% of parents living on benefits were unable to afford basic Christmas or birthday presents for their children.
  • 7 people said that they would have committed suicide without HARC. If this sample is representative of all HARC clients, that means HARC is saving over 900 lives each year.
  • 9 people said that they believe they would have had a breakdown, or ended up in hospital, without HARC’s support.

All 100 people said that they had either already recommended HARC, or would be happy to do so.

HARC CEO Jacky Everard said:

‘The results from this year’s survey have had a profound impact on the staff at HARC. We were set up to provide benefit advice, yet are increasingly finding that the welfare reforms are pushing our clients to the edge. We are not an emergency service, yet on best estimates, we believe we saved at least 9 times as many lives as the local RNLI last year. This is just crazy, and a sign of how desperate the welfare reforms are making people. My staff are not trained to be lifesavers, yet are increasingly required to perform this service.”

No safety net

“Our welfare system is supposed to be a safety net for people in desperate times, yet instead it appears to us that it is actually forcing people to the brink. This is not right, and we call on all politicians locally to stand up for the people that they represent, and to take action on behalf of their poorest residents. We ask them to advocate for an end to these draconian welfare reforms, and to challenge the DWP [Department for Work and Pensions] who have created what is clearly a failing system of health assessments.

“During the course of the survey it became clear that a number of HARC clients had experienced problems with the DWP health assessments undertaken to determine their eligibility for benefits, so an additional question was inserted to ask clients to describe their experience of these assessments. The answers to this question were perhaps most shocking of all.

“Clients consistently described this service as wholly inaccurate, and unfair. They described being sent reports that downplayed, or omitted the problems they were encountering with their health. A high proportion of people described the assessors as ‘lying’. Evidence presented by clients and their doctors consistently failed to be reflected in the final reports, and assessors were also routinely accused of ‘making things up’, to evidence that clients were in better health than they are. In one case the assessor was described as ‘lying 12 times in the report’, despite the fact that the client had requested that the session be taped, and been given a copy of the tape which helped win his appeal.

“Routinely, where the assessments were inaccurate clients had challenged these decisions, and typically won their appeals. These inaccurate reports led to many people being forced to live on drastically reduced income, whilst the appeals progress – typically appeals are taking a year to be heard. Clients had attended assessments at a range of consultation and assessment centres throughout East Sussex, and a smaller number of clients had had their assessments in Kent. Regardless of where the assessment took place, the feedback to HARC was depressingly consistent across all local centres, and suggests that staff are being trained and encouraged within the centres to force people off benefits, regardless of whether this decision is fair, or correct.”

“Systemic dishonesty”

Julie Eason, who undertook the assessment, said:

“I initially thought there was one or two rogue advisers, but once we started asking clients about the assessments it became clear to me that there was systemic dishonesty in the assessment process. Regardless of where in the county the assessment had taken place, clients told me remarkably similar stories. People who had been dropped outside the centres because of mobility issues were described in reports as having walked in from elsewhere, GP and clinical evidence was typically not making it into reports, and what clients told the assessors was often twisted and inaccurately described in order to show that they had made miraculous recoveries and could now return to work.

“Clients typically had a number of serious and complex health issues which were trivialised and understated, and the evidence they provided was inaccurately reported”.

As a result of this survey, HARC is now advising everyone who needs to undertake a health assessment to insist that the session is taped so they can prove the inaccuracy of assessments, should they need to appeal.

The agency is  also keen to keep a record of where people are experiencing difficulties with the health assessments and are considering their options in mounting a legal challenge to these assessments.

If you have experienced dishonest reporting in a health assessment, please email info@harcuk.com with a short description of your experiences.

Posted 20:00 Wednesday, Jul 4, 2018 In: Health Matters

Also in: Health Matters

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