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Forum Home  →  Discussion  →  COVID-19: Benefit claims and administration  →  Thread

Are Telephone assessments suitable for PIP claims?

JP 007
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Welfare rights - Dundee City Council

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We have come across some bad results from telephone assessments particularly on Mental Health descriptors.
If the claimant has difficulty socialising and planning and following but is sitting securely in their home on the phone during assessment, it stands to reason the decision making will be compromised!
A problem which is only going to get worse and cause difficulties for many vulnerable people?

Mike Hughes
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Senior welfare rights officer - Salford City Council Welfare Rights Service

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The experience has been variable but, arguably, on the whole, mostly positive across a range of impairments or health issues. People with mental health issues find there is no longer any judgement to be made on whether they can make good eye contact; are well kempt and well fed or whether there is evidence of their perspiration or shaking etc.

Certainly for the duration of the first lock down we found that HCP assessments had a much higher than average success rate somewhere between 90 and 100% recommending appropriate awards and it was refreshing to see that the health condition itself didn’t seem to impact that. In recent months there has been something of a reversion to the norm but I can’t say I’d single out a specific group of conditions and say that they are especially suffering. 

As regards a generalised statement that such an approach is not suitable for PIP I’m afraid I disagree. They have their place and whilst they may not work or produce the desired outcome for one person with mental health issues they may do so for someone else so I don’t think it can even be said that there are specific groups who should be excluded from telephone assessments.

This is of course coloured by a certain naivety on the part of claimants who believe that “if only they could see me” all would be well when in fact their inability to see, understand and then actively challenge the many incorrect inferences which can be drawn during a face to face assessment is often the prime reason for a poor quality report coming into being.

A Stavert
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Welfare benefits officer - Scottish Borders Council, Scotland

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I agree with JP 007.  In about half of the phone assessments I’ve seen for clients with MH conditions the HP’s logic could be summed up as ‘they answered their phone and spoke for over an hour.  Therefore they can cook a meal, wash and bathe, use the toilet, get dressed, engage with others, make financial decisions and visit unfamiliar places unaccompanied.’

This includes some repeat clients who have had tribunal awards.

Mr Finch
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Benefits adviser - Isle of Wight CAB

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I certainly have the feeling that I’ve been seeing much more poorly reasoned decisions in the last year. Whether or not the telephone assessment route is responsible is not clear. Essentially, at least for engagaing with others, it boils down to ‘if you didn’t meet the 8 point descriptor this proves you can’t meet the 2 point descriptor’ and not a lot else.

Where there’s plausible evidence in the bundle that prompting is needed, I think the answer is for tribunals to use their powers to strike out the response and give summary decisions instead of normalising this standard of decision making.

Ben Forsyth
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Welfare rights officer - Midlothian Council, Midlothian

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I agree that it does appear that at times assumptions are being made about person’s apparent ability to cope during a telephone assessment or a telephone appeal hearing.  I have recently represented a client at a tribunal and the decision states that the tribunal felt she appeared confident and assertive, and this mean that they could discount all mental health descriptors.  I still feel this does fail to take account of the circumstances of a telephone hearing, when the appellant will be in their own familiar environment, and also of the fact that many symptoms of anxiety will not be verbal and therefore not picked up in a telephone conversation.  I know that I myself can appear much more calm on the phone than is often apparent in face-to-face contact.  I do not know if this is an issue particularly apparent in Scottish tribunals given previous posts but I do think it is an issue.

Mike Hughes
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Senior welfare rights officer - Salford City Council Welfare Rights Service

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I remain to be convinced that much of what’s been posted is exclusive to telephone assessments or hearings. Yes assumptions are being made but in many respects they’re easier to pick apart than when they occur during face to face events. An appellant who appeared confident and assertive may well have been exactly the same in a face to face. Unless they resume quickly you may never know. Either way discounting all MH descriptors on that basis is easy enough to challenge. Comic decision making remains that no matter what the format. I’m not sure it’s safe to conclude it’s somehow a problem with telephones that could definitely be fixed by not having them.

Yes, many symptoms of anxiety are non verbal but how quickly we seem to have forgotten that face to face assessments regularly produced “did not look anxious”; “was not sweating”; “made good eye contact”; “conversed easily” and so on.

I think it’s okay to say there are issues with non face to face assessments etc. I don’t think it follows at all that those would be resolved by face to face. That’s wishful thinking.

Elliot Kent
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At the end of the day there are advantages to face to face and advantages to telephone. There will be cases where it doesn’t matter which is used, cases where only one option is acceptable and cases where neither is really going to be entirely satisfactory.

Either way you are going to get decisions based on lazy assumptions or uncharitable descriptions of what happened at the assessment.

The only alternative to telephone assessments being introduced across the board was probably deferring all PIP assessments for at least a year, so I don’t really see that the DWP had any real choice but to proceed in this way, warts and all.

(And don’t say “they could have just accepted the truth of what was written in the PIP2s and decided all these cases on the papers” as we know that’s not realistically going to happen)

Mike Hughes
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Senior welfare rights officer - Salford City Council Welfare Rights Service

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Totally agree Elliot. For my clients telephone assessments have taken out a huge amount of lazy assumption and the results have been consistently excellent. Was always a struggle face to face. However, your mileage may vary. Referring back to the original question which forms the title of this thread I think the answer is that they are no more or less suitable than face to face.

norrp
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Citizens Advice Pembrokeshire

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Hi has anyone come across the situation where a client has made a new claim for PIP and then received a telephone assessment before the client had time to return the PIP2 form (within the time limit) - Are the DWP pre-booking medical assessments on the initial claim? This has occurred 3 times in the last two months.

annief
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Benefits adviser - Maggie's Centre, Edinburgh

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I’ve not had that experience but last week I received a decision on a renewal claim before they even received the completed renewal form.

norrp
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Citizens Advice Pembrokeshire

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Was it a favourable decision?

annief
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Benefits adviser - Maggie's Centre, Edinburgh

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It was a very favourable decision - enhanced rate for both components for 5 years