Two government departments are breaching equality laws and their human rights obligations by failing to ensure that disabled people can record their face-to-face benefit assessments and appeal tribunals, legal researchers have concluded.
They say the delay by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in ensuring that all disabled people can record their assessments for personal independence payment (PIP) is causing them “significant and predictable harm”.
And they say the failure of the Ministry of Justice (MoJ) to ensure that all PIP appeal tribunals can be recorded is also causing “significant and predictable harm” to disabled people.
MoJ’s failure to assess or even acknowledge the harm caused by the absence of recording equipment at many tribunal venues means its actions are unlawful, say researchers from the International Disability Law Clinic (IDLC) at the University of Leeds.
They say both DWP and MoJ are breaching the Equality Act, the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the European Convention on Human Rights.
And they say the government’s policies are unjustified and have an “adverse impact” on disabled people.
An IDLC report says there is “widespread and well-documented evidence of dissatisfaction” with the PIP assessment process.
It points out that many disabled claimants cannot take their own notes at their assessments or appeal tribunals and so – unless the government takes steps to compensate for this – their right to justice is “undermined”.
IDLC’s research has been carried out by undergraduate and postgraduate researchers working with members of the academic team at the university’s School of Law.
PIP assessments can be recorded, but only at the claimant’s expense, using expensive equipment capable of making two identical copies on audio cassette or CD, while the claimant must also sign an agreement about how the recording will be used.
DWP agreed last year to pilot video-recording of PIP assessments, but the report says that, despite this pledge, “the recording of each PIP assessment is still not part of the process”.
The report, For The Record, adds: “The current regime is clearly inappropriate and ineffective: requiring disabled persons to fund their own equipment is impractical and unaffordable for many claimants.”
And it says its researchers have been “unable to identify any evidence that the [DWP and MoJ have] sought to assess the impact of these policies”.