The PIP Process: Part 5: The Assessment

Hello Dear Reader.

I had my PIP assessment on Friday (8 June 2018) and it is a day that will remain in the memory for a long time.  In writing this post, I must make 2 things explicitly clear:

 

  • That, as with all my blogs, the views I express here are purely personal ones (and not those of anyone else)

 

  • The following comments are based on my memories of the assessment, and of written notes taken at the time of the assessment, only. As a consequence of recording the assessment, I had to sign an agreement that states I can only make use of this for personal reasons.

Some context

Its fair to say that the process so far has been a long, difficult and stressful one.  The prospect of the assessment provoked real fear and anxiety, so much so that I had asked for it to take place in my home, to give me a degree of extra comfort from being in a familiar environment that I knew was accessible to me.  Whilst not being thrilled at having the assessment take place in my home, which is a private space, it represented a preferable option to attending an assessment centre.

A false start

I was startled by a very loud set of bangs on my door on Monday. Worried that there was something wrong, and not expecting any visitors, I made it to the door.  I opened it and was greeted by “Hi, I am [assessor name] and i’m here to do your PIP assessment!”  I was amazed and shocked in equal measure.  I hadn’t been given any notice of this by any means.  I had not had the time to prepare for the assessment and I was on my own.  I explained that this must be a mistake as I hadn’t been given any notice, and the assessor suggested that they could come back at another time.

I then phoned the DWP to explain what had happened, who in turn said to call Independent Assessment Centres (from what I can gather this is a new name for what used to be ATOS healthcare) and explain.  They explained that this had indeed been an innocent mistake, and the assessor had got their diaries mixed up.  They were due to come on Friday instead.  The letter confirming this arrived 2 hours after the assessor had first been at my door.

Second time around

Friday rolled around.  The assessment was due to be between 10 and 12.  I waited in the front room from 0930.  I felt sick and had been unable to eat since the Thursday afternoon.  After an agonising 2 hour wait that felt like 2 years, the same assessor arrived.  I was terrified. Would it be as bad as all the horror stories I had heard, or would I be fortunate enough to get one of the nice assessors that I heard were out there?

I was literally shaking with fear for the first half hour of the assessment, and wasn’t able to make eye contact at first.  This improved a little later.  I sat in the chair as rigid as a block of ice, my body tensed up with fear throughout.

I had a companion with me, who was able to take contemporaneous notes of the assessment, as well as supervising the tape recording onto the old 30 minute tapes and identical tape recorders that had been purchased especially.

The assessment began with a social history, which seemed to take forever.  Reading through the notes, I had to give a complete educational history from the age of 2, which as I’m now 35, didn’t really seem relevant.  After all that, we went through the sections of the form.  I literally had the form in front of me to assist me.  I was also asked how the form was filled out, and when I replied with the help of the CAB, was asked why this was.  As previously documented, the form isn’t an accessible one.

Feeling cross examined

The pace of the questions was relentless.  So much so that I asked the assessor to slow down to give me time to process the question being asked!  I also had to make it clear when I wanted extra bits to be added in.  Not easy when you are shaking with fear.

The nearest description I can get to the assessment is one of a mix of cross examination and my PhD viva.  Having completed the written exam, I was now doing the oral component.  It felt like every aspect of my life was examined.  The long, 40 page form was a mere starting point.  We literally went through the form section by section, bit by bit, examining each part in forensic detail.  Great care was needed, as there were more than a few leading questions that I had to correct to try and ensure the assessor was able to get an accurate picture of my impairment and the impact it had day to day.

There were also odd questions. Questions about hobbies, and weight and sleep.  Tricky questions were asked too.  One question in particular was about how far I could walk and the range of distances.  I could walk the lower distance, but not without pain, not repeatedly, or without a rest, or safely.

I was asked how long everything took.  I had to give approximate timings for everything. I had to account for my movements, how the house was adapted, what a bad day looked like, what a more ‘normal’ day looked like. I had to go into a lot of detail about my mental health. About how I showered and how I washed.  About how I went to the toilet, and cleaned myself up afterwards.

Whilst I appreciate some of this detail was needed, I felt much of it wasn’t, and bore no obvious relationship to my life.  It felt intrusive and demeaning at times.  I wasn’t expecting the amount of detail, so had to check that the person who had attended with me was ok afterwards.  Hearing about everything ranging from my darkest mental health days to how I went to the toilet wasnt what I expected.

Questions were also asked repeatedly, using basically the same question in different ways in different parts of the assessment.  The assessment as a whole took about an hour and a half, concluding with a muscle based assessment.

An assessment of the assessment

Using the notes that were taken and the recollections of the assessment, I reviewed it with someone that I trusted, as I needed to get another take on it. They said they were shocked at what they considered to be an aggressive, intrusive assessment, which they felt was designed to catch me out and trip me up.  This verdict was consistent with the anecdotal stories I had heard, and some of those published in official reports on PIP.

What did strike me was what a profoundly negative impact the assessment had.  I have previously described PIP as a passport to dark places.  The assessment took me lower than that and then some.  It was a reminder of everything I couldn’t do.  I felt on trial and under suspicion.  It will take me some time to get over.

What next?

The assessor didn’t give any indication of what the report might contain.  In any event, the final decision isn’t taken by them, but by a case manager who reviews the report and any other evidence gathered.  I will be notified of the outcome in 4 to 8 weeks.

The wider story

At this point I am reminded about how lucky I am to have had the education I have, and to have a reasonable amount about me to cope with the process.  And yet it was a struggle.  As with the form, a struggle for an Oxbridge graduate with a PhD.  If I found the assessment this challenging, what of others?  How is the assessment made accessible for those who struggle with such processes?

I am left with the feeling that there must be a better way.  Thank you for reading.

About the Author

Chris Whitaker was born and grew up in Cheshire, arriving in the world with cerebral palsy after a complex childbirth. Apparently, he was lucky to be here at all and has tried to make the most of life ever since! Chris has worked in the third sector for a few years now and is also a charity trustee. Making a positive difference every day is what drives him and he gets to see the impact the third sector makes. Chris has also been able to use his own lived experience as a disabled person to make an input into his working life.

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