A court has forced a discredited government contractor to pay £2,500 compensation to a disabled woman after a negligent disability benefit assessment left her in debt and experiencing significant mental anguish.
Atos, which failed to defend the case, basically ignored the order to pay the compensation awarded by the county court but was ultimately forced to pay up after being visited by debt enforcement officers.
Rebecca, from Stockton on Tees (not her real name), had decided to seek compensation from Atos for negligence and a failure of its duty of care because of the two-year ordeal she was put through after a face to face personal independence payment (PIP) assessment in April 2018.
The assessment led to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) removing all her PIP daily living support, which meant she also lost associated benefits including severe disability premium and council tax discount, although she did continue to get a payment for PIP mobility.
She and her partner, John, who had accompanied her to the assessment, had been shocked when they read the report written by the nurse who evaluated her.
Rebecca had explained in detail the impact on her daily life of epilepsy and a resulting heart condition, anxiety, depression and memory problems.
She had told the nurse how she couldn’t manage her medication, needed independent living aids to dress and wash, forgets what she has read before finishing a passage, needs help to pay her bills, and becomes anxious when mixing with people she doesn’t know.
But despite the oral and written evidence she presented, the nurse assessor gave her zero points for the daily living component of PIP.
Fortunately, John had recorded the assessment using specialist equipment he had provided himself, although Atos had twice forced Rebecca to postpone the test because the assessor was not qualified to be recorded, and he says the recording revealed how the nurse repeatedly distorted the information she was told.
Despite the recording being available to DWP, a mandatory reconsideration confirmed the decision to withdraw the daily living part of Rebecca’s PIP claim.
The decision plunged her into debt and left her requiring counselling.
When her case was eventually heard by an appeal tribunal in December 2019, the panel listened to the recording of the assessment and compared it with the nurse’s written report, and found unanimously in Rebecca’s favour.
They restored her entitlement to the enhanced daily living component of PIP and extended her award to 2023. She was already in the support group for employment and support allowance.
This was the third time Rebecca had been forced to appeal to a tribunal after an inaccurate Atos assessment and DWP decision on her claim.
She finally got a payment from DWP for the arrears she was owed for unpaid PIP and severe disability premium.
Even then, she was called for another face to face assessment just days later and had to rely on an intervention from her MP, Alex Cunningham, to secure an admission from DWP that her PIP award was now not due to end until 2023, and an apology for any distress the mistake may have caused.
Rebecca said that she was furious and frustrated at having to explain every two to three years that her epilepsy was a lifelong condition, with no known cure, and how it affects her day to day existence while knowing that whatever she says she will once again have to go through another appeal and tribunal, and that the entire process of PIP assessments leaves her traumatised, humiliated, fearful and in a state of anxiety.