Deaf Action’s Money Matters service in Scotland provides a direct face-to-face financial advice and casework service for deaf people and their families in Edinburgh & Lothian, provides a remote financial advice service across Scotland. It also strives to improve the accessibility of mainstream advice & information services across Scotland by publishing and disseminating good practice guidelines. We asked them to outline case studies and examples of some of the challenges experienced by deaf people in dealings with DWP/ATOS. Some of the examples are followed by responses from an ATOS spokesperson.
A high proportion of our work entails supporting deaf people though the review of their Disabled Living Allowance (DLA) claim to Personal Independence Payment (PiP). This is proving stressful for people, waiting for ‘the’ letter to arrive. In addition to that the service given to them by DWP and ATOS is a cause for concern.
Usually the PiP application is fully completed with particular attention given to the sections regarding Communication, Reading and Mixing with other people. Towards the end of the application there is a section where the client notifies that DWP/ATOS must arrange a BSL/English interpreter, or if necessary a hands-on interpreter for deafblind clients.
Unfortunately this is not happening to the extent that we now pre-warn clients to seek confirmation or use our drop-in service to ensure an interpreter has been booked. This has occurred so may times that we routinely complain in writing about this.
An ATOS spokesperson said in response: We have worked on enhancing the process including collaboration with the DWP to address stakeholder and claimant feedback. We are grateful to receive feedback as it helps with continuous improvement.
Recently a reply was received from ATOS stating that the onus was on the client to read the leaflet enclosed with the appointment letter; this advises them to telephone in and request an interpreter. Even worse, they then went on to recommend the deaf person should make sure they have a hearing person with them to make this telephone call.
An ATOS spokesperson said in response: That is one option and we receive feedback that suggests many deaf claimants are happy with this approach. However, other options are available including emailing our customer services team, and the text relay service, both options published on our website http://www.atoshealthcare.com
ATOS is the organisation assessing people for PiP and they clearly have no understanding of the people they will be assessing. English for many deaf people is a weaker second language; formal forms and information leaflets often have a vocabulary that is even harder to understand. This is explained in many of the applications yet ATOS appear to think it is acceptable to disregard a clear request for an interpreter made on the application form.
An ATOS spokesperson said in response: We are developing new methods to improve the experience of deaf claimants, our Customer Services and Clinical teams receive disability awareness training helping to ensure they should always be mindful of the claimants they are speaking to and/or meeting face to face.
Special requirements logging has been enhanced with new technology now introduced to ensure more detailed screening of application forms and to provide the appropriate support requested.
ATOS seem to lack deaf awareness, despite many complaints by Deaf Action’s Money Matters service and from other organisations. They continue to ignore the initial request for interpreters while needing to provide a service that is accessible to deaf people – deaf people should not have to find a hearing person to telephone on their behalf.
An ATOS spokesperson said in response: We engage with stakeholder groups such as the National Deaf Children’s Society, Action on Hearing Loss, British Deaf Association, and the Scottish Council on Deafness to help raise awareness – all of whom we have invited to contribute to our Insight reports.
A client called in at her local Jobcentre and met with the Disability Employment Adviser (DEA). The client does not use BSL, has speech and is good at lip-reading. However the DEA struggled to communicate and so apparently resolved this by writing a lengthy note, giving this to the client and instructing him to call in to Deaf Action. The DEA then phoned ahead to say a client was on the way and in the DEA’s opinion the client probably had learning difficulties. It seems that this conclusion was reached on the basis of the client’s speech and assuming a difficulty with written English. Money Matters easily resolved the enquiry – a well-lit and quiet room ensured good communication, as per good practice.
DWP have a document that is issued to advice agencies and councils in Scotland, providing contact addresses and numbers. At the back of that form they also have a definition of a ‘vulnerable adult’. They state that anyone meeting the criteria listed would be classed as vulnerable. This criteria includes sensory loss, poor literacy skills and learning difficulties.
Money Matters had been working for some time with a client regarding an Employment & Support Allowance claim. Each outgoing letter included a reminder that the individual was a vulnerable adult satisfying 5 of their criteria. He received support from Deaf Action’s specialist Social Work and Support Services teams due to his learning difficulties; he could not read or understand English; he could not understand BSL and adjustments had to be made to communicate with him, explaining things in several different ways until it was certain the information given had been understood. DWP were made aware of this on many occasions.
Around Christmas time the DWP sent an appointment letter to him. Due to public holidays it was on the very day of the visit that support staff saw the letter and tried to cancel the appointment as they could not be there with this client at the time of the appointment to support. DWP refused to cancel the appointment. Despite having several letters from the Money Matters adviser and a mandate authorising them to communicate with the adviser they still refused to contact her. Instead, they turned up – one member of DWP staff accompanied by an interpreter. The client did not understand the unfamiliar interpreter, which should have been very obvious. The interview continued with a statement being taken. The vocabulary used in the statement was clearly not the client’s and in addition to this the statement falsely claimed the client admitted to hiding information from DWP. Our client then signed a statement he never made which was written and so he could not read or understand it, with an interpreter that he was not familiar with and could not understand. A lengthy challenge followed with a positive outcome eventually once it was taken to tribunal.
The DWP sent a letter to a deafblind client regarding a home visit, arranged at very short notice. He needed to wait for support to read the letter – once this happened attempts were made to cancel the appointment to ensure there was a suitable hands-on interpreter to accompany the DWP worker. However, the worker turned up at the house anyway with no interpreter as they expected that support staff would be there and they would ensure communication between them and the client. Rightly, the client refused and sent them away.
Our Money Matters service has successfully assisted many deaf people in a range of situations such as the handful of examples above but the whole experience is often very stressful for all involved, including for the adviser. Sadly, there have been occasions where the blame for DWP/ATOS failures and errors has been laid at Money Matters’ feet. This is understandable but it should not discourage people from seeking advice at the earliest opportunity before problems get worse and require more time & effort to resolve.
An ATOS spokesperson said in response: Engagement and awareness sessions can be organised by Atos ‘claimant champions’ to provide insight into the role we play as an independent assessment provider.
Find out more about Money Matters here: http://www.deafaction.org.uk/our_services/money-matters/
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