Benefit assessments caused ‘a loss of trust’, say MPs

A parliamentary inquiry into assessments for disability benefits had some shocking findings. Charlie Callanan reports and offers some advice to those going through the process

An inquiry by a House of Commons committee earlier this year has found the quality of many of the assessments for disability benefits to be very poor.

It said that this problem had “led to a loss of trust that risks undermining the operation of major disability benefits”.

Almost 3,500 disabled claimants and their carers responded to the inquiry held by the Work & Pensions Committee.

Many individual responses included allegations that the assessment reports written following face-to-face interviews included errors, inaccuracies, omissions and lies.

Examples of poor practice that the inquiry highlighted included a woman with mental health difficulties who was asked why her suicide attempts had failed, and a report about a claimant with mobility problems stating that she walks her dog daily, despite her not owning a dog.

The assessments are done by health professionals working for private contractors. They take place during the claim and/or review process to help to determine entitlement to personal independence payments (PIP), employment and support allowance (ESA) and universal credit for some claimants.


The committee published its inquiry report, PIP and ESA Assessments, in February. Complaints from disabled claimants included:

Face-to face interviews failed to capture the nature and extent of an individual’s disabilities or their impact on daily functioning

Relevant information shared by a claimant with the assessor not being taken into account

Assessment reports could be inaccurate, and contain errors or “untruths”.

The inquiry feedback includes summaries of many experiences of going through a disability assessment. A quote from one claimant was very telling:

“The report we received was a work of fiction and bore no resemblance to what actually took place.”

Disability charities also fed back some of the experiences of their client groups. The Down’s Syndrome Association was one charity to report very worrying levels of ignorance shown by health professionals who carried out assessments for some claimants with a learning disability:

“Some of the assessors, for both ESA and PIP, need more insight and training with regard to people with learning difficulties …. questions that parents have been asked at the assessments [included]: “How long have they had Down’s syndrome for?” ‘When did they catch Down’s syndrome?’ ‘When were you diagnosed with Down’s syndrome?'”

The government has agreed to a recommendation by the committee to arrange for all face to face assessments to be recorded. It has also agreed to provide more relevant information, such as details about PIP and ESA descriptors (abilities used to calculate limited capability for work), in easy read versions and/or video.

Information and tips

Below are some information and top tips about benefit disability assessments.

The client should attend with a support worker if possible, or a relative or carer – they should be allowed to help the client to answer the questions.

Any current medical evidence and/or supporting information from a social worker or support service should be handed to the assessor. Bring medication and any portable aids.

The health professional will be observing and assessing the client from the moment they meet until the interview ends.

All observations (e g “the claimant kept eye contact” or “the claimant was clean and well dressed”) as well as all replies to questions are used in informing the assessment report.

Assumptions may be extrapolated from an answer to a question. For example, if a client says that she goes to a local shop for groceries, it may be assumed she can engage with other people unaided and deal with money without help – any difficulties the client experiences should be described.

Clients should explain any limitations or difficulties they experience in carrying out an activity. This could include: “I have cut myself while chopping veg and preparing meat, and I burnt myself while using an oven. If I cannot get help with preparing and cooking food, I just heat up a microwave meal.”

Clients should mention any pain or fatigue experienced when carrying out daily activities, and where it takes a long time to complete an activity.

The assessor may physically examine clients, who should not agree to or try to do anything they are not able to do usually.

Clients can contact the health assessment provider after the interview to request a copy of the assessment report.

The Work & Pensions Committee inquiry gave a voice to many benefit claimants with disabilities who found the process difficult and unfair. But the question remains if and when changes will be introduced to make the assessment and reports fairer and more accurate.

All PIP and ESA Assessments Inquiry documents, including the government’s response, can be downloaded from:

Charlie Callanan is an adviser and writer on welfare rights issues. He has more than 20 years’ experience in the charitable and statutory sectors