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Wednesday, 10 October 2012

The Misnomers around Evidence Evaluation within Decision Making

Government Ministers and DWP frequently talk about Decision Makers (DMs) applying weightings to each piece of evidence they have to derive their conclusion.  This sound very scientific and objective, so it is worth understanding quite how it works and in particular:
1)      On a case by case basis, how does a DM appropriately weight each of the pieces of information in front of him/her, particularly as the nature and amount of it will vary?
2)      Are the weighting decided upon recorded for audit/Quality checking purposes case by case?
3)      Are the weightings “fixed” for a given assortment of information – e.g. for all cases where only the ESA50 & ESA85 are available, will the respective weightings always be the same across ALL DMs? If not, what features of either/both could bring about variations in weightings?
Through FoI requests, it appears there is no information covering any of these questions, so something is clearly not right.  It boils down again to “spin” and using words that exaggerate the reality of what is taking place.  A prime example is over Atos’s “Mystery Shopping” activities which are no longer a mystery and little more than an admin check – there is certainly no intention to simulate a claimant’s experience.
Here there is what you might generously regard as confusion, not so generously a deliberate attempt to mislead. There is a big difference between:

1)        Weighing up the evidence – applying judgement to the significance and credibility of each piece of evidence to form an overall view, which by definition is subjective and difficult to audit and replicate.
2)        Weighting the evidence – attaching a numerical value to each piece of evidence representing its importance and credibility with a formula to aggregate into a final decision. With sufficiently detailed guidelines this is much more objective, auditable and reproducible.
In the absence of the information to support the existence of b), the methodology employed is obviously a). This would explain the high appeal rate and large number of decisions reversed at tribunal.

In addition, a number of worrying admissions arose:
1)        DWP will retrospectively under the guise of “clarification” provide Atos with the opportunity to amend a report. This would partly explain why claimants say there are parts of the ESA85 they cannot recall or recall differently. No such opportunity is afforded to the claimant.
2)        There is no audit trail for the decision made – i.e. no record of the weightings attached to each piece of evidence and how they were derived to reach a decision.
3)        There is a requirement to assess a “customer’s needs” (DWP’s words), which given the high rate of appeal cannot be regarded as successful.

There is nothing here that will directly help with preparing for and getting through a WCA, but you are hopefully now more aware of what really goes on in the background and better able to understand why the result was not as you expected.

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