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Disability Assessors must be properly trained says BPS

Following the airing of Channel 4's Dispatches programme The Great Benefits Row on Monday 11 April 2016, the BPS is extremely concerned about the appropriateness of the training, behaviour and outcome goals of some disability assessors employed by Capita as depicted on the programme.

As the professional body for psychologists in the UK, the British Psychological Society (BPS) is concerned that the contributions of psychological theory and practice are not being used to best effect within the benefits system. We are committed to ensuring that psychological assessments are valid and enable individuals to receive tailored guidance and support.

With specific reference to the face-to-face disability assessment for Personal Independence Payments from the Department for Work and Pensions, we strongly emphasise the following:

  • The outcome of assessments should be to establish a full picture of a person's physical, psychological and neuropsychological functioning. Assessments should be timely, accurate and fair.
  • Standardised assessments should only be carried out in the way they were developed and tested to be. Any variation in practice may result in the assessment producing invalid and unreliable outcomes.
  • The development and testing of assessments should involve the expert input of health and social care professionals regarding the assessment physical, mental, neurological and cognitive functioning.
  • Assessors should be appropriately trained, acting within the bounds of their professional competence, and should receive regular reflective supervision and training from expert health and social care professionals.
  • Mental health problems and disabilities are highly individualised. The training of assessors should ensure that staff are sensitive to the specific needs of those presenting with complex conditions and understand the tailored support provisions that may need to be made for those individuals to ensure sufficient comprehension and understanding of the process and what is being asked of them, at every stage. Psychologists are well placed to ensure that training is appropriately informed and structured to enable staff to tailor the assessment process to the needs of the individual whilst ensuring that the assessment is conducted as consistently, fairly and inclusively as possible.
  • The assessment of the impact of physical and mental health disabilities may have adverse consequences on an individual's understanding of themselves, their attitudes, behaviour and psychological wellbeing. Any process that is designed to support those in need must uphold or improve the psychological wellbeing of those individuals.
  • Ensuring that the assessment is accurate and valid is vital, not least because of the possible negative impact on psychological wellbeing that may arise from having to undergo the assessment, but also because of the potential adverse consequences of outcomes which may not reflect the extent or complexity of an individual's mental health condition and which may, in turn, result in significant distress and an exacerbation of their condition.
  • The fundamental purpose of the system should be to ensure the provision of appropriate support to improve the psychological wellbeing of vulnerable individuals and to prevent further psychological harm.
  • Assessments must not be carried out in a covert manner and the individual being assessed should be fully informed as to the nature and the purpose of the assessment.
  • Psychologists have an ethical and professional responsibility to ensure they have gained fully informed consent for any assessments they conduct.

Professor Jamie Hacker Hughes, President of the British Psychological Society, said:

"Throughout the past year the British Psychological Society has been calling for attention to the inadequacy of the assessments currently being used by the Department of Work and Pensions for Work Capability Assessments and assessments for Personal Independence Payments.

"This week's Dispatches programme has highlighted the urgent need for the contributions of psychological theory and practice to be used to best effect within the Benefits System. We therefore make a number of strong recommendations for ways in which the assessment system should be improved."