This report covers findings from a small-scale qualitative study commissioned to understand more about how decision makers make judgements in the minority of Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) cases where they potentially face conflicting evidence. It focuses on the types of cases where these complexities arise, how decision makers deal with them and how support for decision makers could be improved.
In considering these issues, the report is deliberately focused on areas of the process where there is scope for improvement and, as such, inevitably contains negative comments about the processes as they were in the autumn of 2011.
The research took place in September and October 2011 and involved 10 group discussions with decision makers at 5 different benefit centres and 10 in-depth interviews with Atos healthcare professionals (HCPs).
The report was commissioned in June 2011 in response to recommendations in Professor Harrington’s first independent review of the Work Capability Assessment (2010).
The findings of this research informed Professor Harrington’s 2011 recommendation to audit decision makers’ performance. This audit, and a programme of unannounced visits by Professor Harrington to benefit delivery centres and Atos assessment centres in 2012, provided insight into the changes that have taken place and will help ensure decision makers are making well-informed and robust decisions. As part of its commitment to continuously improve this process, we have already identified many of the issues highlighted by the research.
Recent action taken to improve the quality of decision making includes:
- introducing the Quality Assessment framework to monitor decisions in July 2011
- delivering mental health guidance for DWP operational staff
- launching improved learning for all decision makers, which clearly sets out their role and principles of decision making
Professor Harrington has discussed the research, its findings and our response in detail with DWP Operations. We look forward to building on the improvements in the WCA process noted in the 2011 review.