Updated handbook for fit-for-work assessors is cause for concern

Posted On: 
11th June 2018

Respnding to the publication of an updated handbook for Maximus staff delivering Work Capability Assessments, its is hugely worrying that it thought necessary to produce guidance advising assessors not to ask to see evidence of self-harm, says Mind. 

The Department for Work and Pensions and Maximus - the private commercial organisation currently contracted to deliver ‘Work Capability Assessments’ (WCAs)* - have updated their handbook for healthcare professionals carrying out the assessments. One of the updates listed reads: ‘Paragraph added to highlight it is not appropriate to request to see evidence of scars from previous self-harm’ (page 3).

Responding to the updated guidance, Ayaz Manji, Senior Policy and Campaigns Officer at Mind said:

“It’s hugely worrying that Maximus and the Department for Work and Pensions have thought it necessary to produce guidance advising assessors not to ask to see evidence of self-harm. This suggests that until now, assessors deemed it appropriate to ask about this. Even the implication that this has been happening is shocking. Not only is it insensitive and distressing, it’s based on inaccurate assumptions about self-harm. Self-harming can take all kinds of forms from inflicting cuts and burns to under-eating, over-eating, overdosing or exercising excessively.

“We regularly hear from supporters who have been made to feel uncomfortable or even suicidal due to intrusive and inappropriate questions about self-harming and suicidal thoughts during assessments. There can be extremely serious ramifications to asking these types of questions during the assessment process.

“It’s clear that fit-for-work tests aren’t working, with many people not getting the outcome they deserve. More than half of people who appeal their benefit decision see it overturned, but for too many people, going through that process just isn’t possible because they are too unwell to face it. A recent Work and Pensions inquiry also revealed shocking stories of assessors who lacked even the most basic understanding of mental health. We need to see real reform so that people with mental health problems are assessed compassionately by staff who understand mental health, and asked questions that relate to the actual barriers they face in the workplace.”

  • Two anonymous campaigners highlight some of their experiences during assessments:

“I was made to disclose my past self-harm and suicidal ideation. I wasn't given the option to ask him to leave the room, I didn't even know the questions were coming.”

“I was also asked dangerous trigger questions without warning during the assessment.”