Disabled benefit claimants have been told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that they must reach into their own pockets and pay for specialist equipment if they want their assessments to be recorded.
Former Labour MP Frank Field, who will contest his Birkenhead seat as an independent, has revealed that disabled people have been asked to fork out as much as £1,400 to record face-to-face assessments for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP).
A growing number of people are requesting that ESA and PIP assessments be recorded, due to rising concerns over fairness and accuracy of reports sent to the DWP, who then use these reports to decide the level of support a person is enitled to.
But the DWP only has a small number of these specialist recorders, that are mainly reserved for ESA Work Capability Assessments, and is now asking disabled people themselves to pay for the equipment – despite knowing that it is highly unlikely they will be able to afford it.
The DWP requires that recording equipment is capable of making two copies, one for the claimants and the other for the DWP.
The Department uses the Neal CD Interview Recorder 9102, which retails at around £1,400, and asks that claimants provide the same or equivalent equipment if none are available.
This effectively means that disabled people may be deprived of the audio evidence needed to appeal against decisions based on reports that may neglect important details disclosed during face-to-face assessments.
Mr Field said: “These prohibitive rules have left people frantically scratching around to find equipment that satisfies the Department.”
He has now purchased two of these recorders to help claimants in his constituency who wish to have their ESA or PIP assessments recorded.
Mr Field continued: “There is now a flourishing second hand market for NEAL machines, with sellers expressly pointing out that these machines were used for PIP assessments.
“Of all the issues I am contacted about in the course of my work, from constituents and the wider public, ‘The DWP told lies on my assessment report’ is the most common refrain.
“The great majority of tribunal appeals are made and upheld on this basis, at great expense to the public purse.
“I believe that it makes sense that every interview should be ‘On the Record’, and that is why I have arranged for charity Involve Northwest to be provided with a NEAL Interview Recorder which it can loan to claimants.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “PIP assessments can be recorded, with equipment provided by the claimant, however we ask that claimants request any recording of a Work Capability Assessment before an appointment.”