Desperate disabled people who want to record their benefits assessments are being asked to fork out £1,400 for state of the art equipment by the DWP.

This shocking news has been revealed by Frank Field, who is looking to be re-elected as Birkenhead's MP. He is urging the Department of Work and Pensions to record all assessments for sickness and disability benefits as standard.

At present, those who want an audio recording of a benefits assessment interview need to actively request it.

According to the long-serving MP, when people applying for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) or the sickness component of Universal Credit request that they have their assessment recorded, this must be done on a NEAL CD Interview Recorder.

These devices are most commonly used by the police to record interviews. However, the DWP has not bought enough machines to go around, and not all claimants are able to have their interview recorded.

 

But the situation for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) applicants is even more stringent.

Mr Field, who is the chair of the Work and Pensions Parliamentary committee, explained how individuals can request that their interview be recorded, however, they must provide the equipment themselves, and it must be capable of producing two copies simultaneously. Few individuals have access to such equipment.

He said the Neal CD Interview Recorder 9102 used by the DWP retails at £1,400+VAT.

Although Neal does not display prices publicly on its website, this figure was also confirmed in the DWP's reply to a 2012 Freedom of Information request.

While calling for the DWP to provide the necessary equipment, Mr Field has also acquired two such devices immediately to help people who wish for their assessments to be recorded.

Frank Field

In many instances, the lack of an assessment recording has led to claimants being incorrectly denied benefits, and they are not able to prove that their answers have been misinterpreted by the health professional overseeing the assessment.

This said, the great majority of claimants take their case to a tribunal, and in the overwhelming majority, the original decision is overturned.

 

This was the case with Liverpool man Stephen Smith who was repeatedly and wrongly denied benefits but managed to overturn the decisions at tribunal.

Sadly he died before his money was paid back.

Mr Field said: "These prohibitive rules have left people frantically scratching around to find equipment that satisfies the Department.

Stephen Smith was taken off ESA benefits despite a range of serious health problems

"There is now a flourishing second hand market for NEAL machines, with sellers expressly pointing out that these machines were used for PIP assessments.

"Of all the issues I am contacted about in the course of my work, from constituents and the wider public, 'The DWP told lies on my assessment report' is the most common refrain.

"The great majority of tribunal appeals are made and upheld on this basis, at great expense to the public purse. I believe that it makes sense that every interview should be 'On the Record', and that is why I have arranged for charity Involve Northwest to be provided with a NEAL Interview Recorder which it can loan to claimants."

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Responding, a DWP spokesperson said: “PIP assessments can be recorded, with equipment provided by the claimant, however we ask that claimants request any recording of a Work Capability Assessment before an appointment.”

Mr Field is bidding to retain his seat as the MP for Birkenhead in the General Election on December 12 - he will be challenged by Labour candidate Mick Whitley, Liberal Democrat Stuart Kelly, Green candidate Pat Cleary and Conservative Claire Royles.