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Sunday, 26 August 2012

Duplicity begets dupicity

Hypocrisy and the use of double-standards are not acceptable characteristics in any situation and there are never mitigating circumstances.  However, through its ill-thought out policies and procedures in many areas of Welfare Reform DWP regularly demonstrates both in abundance.  Increasingly it is important to publicise each example that arises so that is can accumulate the credit it so rightly deserves.  It has yet to understand the vicious circle into which it has manoeuvred itself where its hypocrisy and dishonesty simply begets more hypocrisy and dishonesty.
The fact that DWP is very keen to explain what should perhaps be happening, but unwilling to explain what does is a common cause of disputes and indeed my latest spat, which began with a quite straightforward FoI request as follows:
The WCA Handbook for Atos HCPs is quite clear that all of the evidence brought by the claimant must be considered and logged in their report. They must also consider the ESA50 and where appropriate use all of this to inform the way in which they approach the WCA, the questions they ask and the tests they perform. A comprehensive review of this information is vital to the success of the WCA.
If they fail to do this what action should a claimant take? Many claimants would not be able to raise this with the HCP at the time and it is not possible to "intercept" the ESA85 report before it arrives with DWP and a decision over ESA entitlement is made.”
This was borne from my own experience where the complaint I had raised with Atos before the ESA85 was produced and the ESA decision made was completely ignored by the Decision Maker although he admitting having it to hand at the time.  There is of course also the general backdrop of ongoing DWP & Ministerial promises to better support claimants through the process, but note that they are mainly about help AFTER the event – a personalised summary on the ESA85, a phone call to explain a decision etc. and I am a bit fed up with Prof Harrington continually telling me to be patient.
The best help to offer claimants is of course BEFORE the WCA takes place to better ensure it is right first time.  I would include in this specifically
·         A detailed list of all the information to bring along that might help – scans, X-rays etc.
·         An open offer to audio record the session if required and why this might help the claimant later.
As regards the former, the HCP cannot comprehensively construct the WCA correctly without it to rule out any contradictions that might arise.  It is therefore mandatory, not optional.  The WCA invitation letter makes no mention of this, just the need to identify yourself.  Perversely, DWP then blames its wrong decisions on not having all of the information available!!!  Amazing.  Also, sending it to DWP is sending it to the wrong person – it is the Atos HCP who needs it and is better placed to understand it as DWP Decision Makers are NOT medically trained.
The FOI response provided some useful information and quoted the theory, totally ignoring the thrust of the question (in theory of course this situation cannot arise), so I repeated it asking if all claimants are expected to read the sizable ESA Handbook, which was the source of much of the response – if no, where else are they told about this important area?
The second response insisted the question had been answered but included a bit more information, so I repeated the original question again as a second IR and posted the status at the time as follows:
“DWP has said it (rightly) does not expect claimants to read the WCA Handbook, but also that much of the information of use to claimants is NOT provided anywhere else.
DWP has accepted that only ID + medication is mentioned in the Atos letter – NOT ANY of the useful information that would help a claimant best present their situation.

It tries to tell us that it is doing all it can to help claimants through the process and to obtain the correct result first time, in line with the promises made by Chris Grayling – clearly on this evidence totally empty promises – it could do a great deal more if it wanted to.

The matter of what action a claimant should take HAS STILL NOT BEEN ANSWERED and is therefore the subject of a second IR request. “
Another month or two passed and I received a response that said little more than the previous one and stated that the onus is one the claimant to provide relevant information – perhaps technically so, but where has the help and support evaporated to?
My conclusions were therefore follows:
“What this second IR response confirms is that:

1) Chris Grayling’s promise of more help and support for claimants is a lie. What could be more valuable than making sure a claimant is prompted to take everything relevant to a WCA.
2) Alternatively, DWP has decided to ignore Chris Grayling’s promise and continue on its own merry way.
3) DWP offers no facility to claimants who experience a demonstrably poor WCA other than to allow “nature” to take its
course and fight the uphill battle retrospectively as an appeal.
4) DWP does not understand the meaning of the word “rhetorical”.”
Which I thought would bring matters to a close, but not so.  Quite unexpectedly I received a typically misplaced, partly erroneous and unnecessarily vitriolic attack on my question and me – clearly I had unwittingly touched a nerve.  Of course I HAD to respond:
“Dear DWP DWP Medical Services Correspondence,

I am of course at somewhat of a disadvantage as the person who has composed this latest response (24/08) is able to personalise their vilification of me from the shelter of their anonymity. I cannot describe the tone of it more eloquently and accurately than the annotations here have already. I will expose and respond to the broader issues it raises elsewhere and confine my comments here to FoI and the response itself, particularly as it is both logically and factually incorrect. I would use another vehicle if I knew what it is.

1.         My note dated Aug 9th was patently NOT a question or an IR request, so I am a wee bit miffed at being accused of raising one inappropriately. I am fully aware of the limitations of FoI legislation and the ideology behind the WDTK site. I know they do not like it to be used for debate, but I do feel entitled to respond to the latest DWP posting.

2.          Unfortunately, some sections of the public sector have become so steeped in duplicity that they have lost all ability to distinguish fact from fiction. I will not comment here on why this is the inevitable result of a certain style of management.

3.         The FoI legislation offers one of the few opportunities to attempt to clarify this distinction. Yes, it focuses on recorded
information, but it is safe to assume within an organisation the size of DWP that anything NOT recorded is of no consequence and can be regarded as little more than hearsay or speculation – if it was material, it would most certainly be recorded somewhere.

4.         I doubt the author here has experienced a WCA whereas I have three times over, all wrong! I am therefore somewhat better placed to segregate the theory from the practice. I would happily have the debate face to face if there was such an opportunity as I am very sure of my ground and armed with indisputable evidence (unlike DWP) to support any assertion I make.

5.         The request here sought to define the truth behind a ministerial statement by offering DWP the opportunity to provide some supporting evidence, notably through their intentions behind what is undoubtedly the greatest manifestation of the support they could offer if indeed they are serious about the intention. As they are unable to do this there is only one conclusion that can be drawn – it is NOT an opinion, it is a logically deduced interpretation of the facts as presented by DWP. If there is an alternative interpretation they could have provided it and corrected my misunderstanding, but have chosen not to – clearly there is not one. (Although this too will be labelled as an opinion no doubt).  The evidence-based methodology is the one that DWP itself favours and they are therefore governed by its rules in the interests of avoiding accusations of hypocrisy.

6.         The statement over the proportion of GPs involved IS COMPLETELY FALSE. From its own statistics only around 25% of Atos FTE HCPs are registered with the GMC – the rest are nurses and physios. Also the proportion of WCAs performed by GP’s has been reducing, so clearly the overall expertise being applied is progressively diminishing. 

7.         The knowledge, expertise and rigour applied to maintain both are grossly overstated. DWP cannot even GUARANTEE that all HCPs have kept their registrations up to date and are therefore appropriately qualified at the time they undertake a WCA. It is absurd to state that a physiotherapist (with all due respect to all of them) has “vast experience” with mental disability. The last HCP I encountered whilst a registered nurse was attempting to make a living from a door to door Botox/collagen service and performing WCAs as an income top-up. This not in line with the picture painted here.

8.         The reply claims objectivity, but cannot describe against what standard – after 4 years there is still no definition of “work” nor is there any evidence to support some of the descriptor changes that have been applied, which are of course driven by political dogma which by definition is partisan. There are also no performance measures in place so any suggestion of improvement is pure speculation – even by ‘Lord’ Harrington himself.

9.         The picture it paints is one of a DWP DM sitting with a wealth of information about a claimant all of which is medically orientated, some of which could be highly technical and complex faced with making a decision when that individual has no medical training – how more perverse can one be?

10.      I have no political affiliations whatsoever. I would just like to see the DWP “doing what is says on the tin”. I would remind DWP that they have judged my ability to work wrongly not just once, but on three consecutive occasions. They assure me that I have not been victimised, so I should presumably regard my experience as par for the course. I am already gravely worried about the chances of the next one being right first time, I think with due cause. Perhaps DWP would like to promise me that this will not be the case – surely not too much to ask?

11.     They publicly accept they will make mistakes (by inference occasionally rather than my experience of 100%) and promise to explain why they did and how they will learn for the future. I have had no such explanation and my experience indicates nobody learnt anything. They did not even have the wit to demonstrably try harder third time round and assigned the least qualified, least interested HCP of the three.

12.     I would like to avoid a repeat of the trauma on my next WCA, so I am simply looking for clear signs that next time, DWP will in fact get it right first time. So when someone says something has improved, it is hardly surprisingly that I want to see some evidence as without it the claims are just so much hot air.

13.     My evidence is my own indisputable experience, so DWP, how can you match that??? Are you suggesting I’m making it all up? Just check your records.

14.      Finally I quite like the thought that DWP feels it has no obligation to reply to a (rhetorical) question that by definition, does not require an answer. That at least does make some sort of sense.

Yours sincerely,”

It also referred to the old chestnut about the extensive diagnostic skills needed by HCP – when you point out to DWP that that nurses/physios (with respect) don’t have them they tell you they don’t need them and a few weeks training with Atos is more than enough, but when you question the skills needed to perform a WCA, it appears they do have them.

The only point here is that despite the PR, sound-bites and often friendly tone, do not expect the help you really need to get through a WCA painlessly from Atos or DWP.  The good news is that there are website around that provide exactly this service, thank God.


Wednesday, 22 August 2012

WCA Audio Recording latest correspondence

From Job Centre Plus:
“Thank you for your e-mail of 3 August.
We have asked Atos to provide facilities for recording assessments when requested by a claimant and will make reasonable endeavours to meet all requests.
Claimants should make their requests for recording to Atos directly. This is so that Atos can make an appointment when the necessary equipment is available.
ln order to accommodate the request within a reasonable timescale a claimant may be asked to attend a Medical Examination Centre (MEC) that is not the one nearest to their home address. Claimants would not be expected to travel to a MEC where this involves a one way journey of more than 90 minutes.
Requests for recording of assessments can only be agreed with the prior consent of the healthcare professional (HCP), and when approved recording equipment is used. This is to ensure that stringent safeguards are in place to produce recordings that are complete, accurate and that the facility provides for simultaneous duplicate copies to be made available to both the claimant and the HCP.
lf a claimant wishes to record an assessment using their own equipment the HCP will offer to reschedule the assessment for another day when Atos recording equipment is available' lf claimants refuse to cooperate and continue to record the assessment the HCP will terminate the assessment. The assessment will also be terminated if it is discovered that covert recording is taking place.
We are currently looking at ways to improve the availability of audio recording in the short term. I note that your next assessment is scheduled for September 2013. Should any further information regarding recordings be available prior to that date I will ensure that you receive details.
Yours sincerely”

In Response:
Dear JCP
I have received your letter dated 14th August and it is hard to know what to say as it does not address the issues that now arise from this sudden change in approach.  It contains new policies that will affect me personally which you do not publicise and it is important that they are as widely known about as possible. 
Clearly in raising the possibility of an “indefinite” delay, DWP has no confidence in Atos’s ability to effectively manage a really quite simple operational requirement.  It likewise has no confidence in its own ability to make sure that it does.  What exactly do you mean by “reasonable”, who will decide and exactly what steps will DWP take to make sure Atos achieves it?  I cannot see why this is so difficult – each MAC already has a range of equipment from stethoscopes to PCs that are in regular use and require maintenance and repairs from time to time.  This is just one more such item.  The NAO has recently heavily criticised DWP’s management of the Atos contract and we have yet another example here.
Given the seriousness of these issues, I would like to give you the opportunity to perhaps “clarify” some of the statements you have made here before passing this information on.  The main issue is that you are legally bound to treat all claimants equally and not exercise any form of discrimination, so when I ask for a recording and Atos says “sorry, no equipment available” how will they be able to prove they are not discriminating against me personally, particularly as I have already been singled out for “special” treatment?  This requirement is echoed in both the DWP Service Charter and the Civil Service Code and you simply cannot ignore all 3 mandates.
A commitment to no more than “reasonable endeavours” is a recipe for wholesale abuse by denying the facility for no good reason and introducing inconsistency from one claimant to another.  You cannot promise that this will not take place as you will have no evidence one way or the other.  Chris Grayling himself promised in the HoC that recording would be available to anyone asking for it and I do not believe you are at liberty to countermand his assurance.  If he has done this himself, please point me to where this is recorded.
1)        You talk about “approved” recording equipment – approved by whom (presumably the claimant as well as DWP/Atos) and to what standard?
2)        My own digital recorder has a USB socket.  What is wrong with uploading a copy of the audio file to an Atos PC immediately after the WCA?  This is no different in practice to dual recording.
3)        It is a little rich for you to accuse claimants of refusing to “cooperate” if they are in a position where they requested audio recording but no equipment was available and Atos will not delay the appointment until it is.  Their choice would be to go ahead with no recording or risk having their ESA payments affected because they are deemed to have caused the delay.  Does that sound fair to you?
4)        A three hour journey for someone in poor health is an outrageous suggestion and most certainly not reasonable. 
5)        You cannot have it both ways by not explaining all of the nuances to claimants in advance and then penalise them for falling foul of a rule they knew nothing about.
You have judged all 3 of my WCAs wrongly initially.  In each case, most of the problem was due to the fact that the HCP did not record or interpret what I said accurately which was subsequently proven.  In each case both Atos and DWP refused to consider any information that they considered to be a difference between my recollection and the HCP’s recollection of events that could not be substantiated.  Recording has the ability to eliminate all such disputes.  If you will not provide the equipment to record a session and will not allow me to use my own, what other arrangements will you make?  If you refuse, I will insist on transcribing the entire session verbatim in long-hand and asking the HCP to sign it.  Presumably they can have no objection, please confirm.  Note that they themselves are effectively making a transcript through LiMA and do not offer me the facility to check it prior to circulation.  What basis do you have for trusting the HCP more than me?
Please address this point by point – I have highlighted key questions for your convenience.
Yours sincerely


Tuesday, 21 August 2012

A letter to the Atos CEO

Dear Ms Morgenstern
Re:  Medical Services Contract with the DWP

From your response to the National Audit Office’s recent report, (http://blog.atoshealthcare.com/2012/08/atos-healthcare-response-to-the-nao-review/), you clearly do not believe that their investigation was well conducted or objective and are highly disgruntled with the findings and this is your attempt to set the record straight.  It does however raise a number of important issues, so I feel compelled to do likewise.
I am not sure at which audience your blog is aimed – it is your actions to date that have determined who loves you and who hates you, so I don’t think this plea of mitigating circumstances will influence current opinion one way or the other.
You have been doing the job now for 4 years, so one has to ask how long it will be before you can genuinely sit back and say that you have achieved the required standard.  The WCA process has as you know been highly controversial since its inception and a significant reason for this has been the lack of clarity in a number of key areas.  Whilst this may serve a political expediency, “muddy water” only ever inhibits efficiency and real progress.  My aim therefore is to put a series of propositions to you which, in the main, you can answer with a clear ‘yes/no’ or ‘agree/disagree’ supplemented perhaps with whatever qualification/elaboration you feel necessary, but the latter is of little use without the former.  It is much better (in the interests of clarity) that you provide the ‘yes/no’ rather than leaving me to surmise.
 If you feel unable to address any point directly, I would much prefer you to say so rather than insult my intelligence with unsubstantiated claims and meaningless clichés, all of which I can guarantee I have heard before.  I am reasonably well-read over the whole WCA debacle, so there is no need for you to cut & paste the standard responses that appear elsewhere.  What I am seeking here for everyone’s benefit is something fresh, objective and honest.
Rarely are assumptions clearly stated, but my only one here is that there is no place for morality in private enterprise and I have not therefore commented on whether Atos has it or not – it most certainly is not one of my expectations.  If you feel this assumption is unfair on Atos, please say so.
I will try to deal with the issues in the sequence they arise in your blog.
1)        In your opening paragraph there is an implied criticism of the NAO for not “sharing” its findings with you.
Yes it has, at the same time as it did with everyone else.  It seems you think you were entitled to a sneak preview and presumably the facility to suggest alterations prior to final publication.  This is not how the concept of independent audit operates.  I suggest you read the information on the NAO website at http://www.nao.org.uk/about_us.aspx  where you will find that they have worked exactly within their remit.

The “confusion “appears to be over your understanding of independence.  The NAO uses the conventional definition that most people would understand.  Your interpretation is however different as demonstrated by the arrangements around the so-called “Independent Tier”, which do not comply with any definition of the word I can find.
You will no doubt wish to defend the independence of the IT despite the fact that it is appointed by and paid by Atos, its members are secret (as is the precise nature of their qualifications to fulfil this important role), it sits in-camera and the only access to it is through Atos.  The direct analogy would be a court case where the only access to the (secret) judge is through your adversary’s lawyer – I doubt you would regard this as a satisfactory arrangement let alone one modelled on objectivity and indeed independence. 
Any suggestion that objectivity and impartiality can only be achieved through secrecy not only denigrates the entire British legal system but also rather flies in the face of the basic democratic principles of public accountability & scrutiny and the Prime Minister’s own views about the “disinfecting power of sunlight” – something he talks about frequently. 
2)        You cannot have your cake and eat it too, by on the one hand claiming autonomy and discretion to improve the process and then dive behind the contract when things get a bit sticky.  This disingenuousness will not earn you respect or credibility.  If the contract requires you to do anything other than a comprehensive, sensitive and accurate job, you must say so unambiguously (setting aside the question of why you signed it in the first place).  The “I was only following orders” defence was exposed for what it is over 60 years ago. 
3)        Of course the task is “challenging” – whoever said it would be easy?  You are making recommendations that result in potentially life or death decisions.  It is all very well having an appeals process, but even if it took days rather than months to deliberate, the damage has already been done - the worry and trauma cannot be erased.
Nobody expects a foolproof process that never makes a minor error of judgement – there is too much inherent variability involved and inevitably an element of subjectivity.  What we do expect is a process that recognises these characteristics and adapts appropriately to them.  Nobody has the right to irresponsibly gamble with my health and well-being except me – and the medical lawyers would contest even that.  You therefore have to show compassion and err on the safe side rather than take a risk – the stakes are too high.  We expect any errors to be only at the margins and quickly corrected.  We do not expect errors at the extremes.  Can you guarantee categorically that a claimant’s overall long-term health and well-being is your primary consideration – yes or no?
 A number of the extreme assessment errors are well documented, together with the irreparable consequences – yes, people have literally died and one is one too many.  However, you have never once commented on any of your errors or indeed apologised, so you cannot now expect sympathy, respect or even a “fair hearing” as that is not what you have provided to many of the people you have assessed.  The end does not always justify the means and the amount of collateral damage you have created is simply unacceptable.
The stakes could not be higher – my health and possibly my life, so I expect you to be conservative, cautious and err on the safe side.  I do NOT expect you to be cavalier on the basis that it will all get sorted out sooner or later by someone else.  You do not give the impression that you accept this – in fact rather the opposite. 
4)        You refer to the high standards you set yourselves – easily said, but what exactly are they? 
5)        You mention in a number of places WCA improvements for which you should receive credit and it is worth being clear as to quite what this means – there have undoubtedly been changes over the past 3 – 4 years but their effects are debatable in the absence of clear evidence one way or the other.
I am sure you are familiar with the old management cliché that says in essence, “If you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it”.  What quantifiable measures do you have to support this claim of ongoing, continual improvement? 
Everyone talks about the critical importance of right-first-time classification (fit for work or otherwise).  Why then don’t you make any attempt to track it over time?  Improvements would then be self-evident and instantly quell criticism.  It may be a bit difficult to measure accurately, but NOT impossible and its value is beyond dispute, so well worth the effort. 
6)        You may be able to technically claim that you have implemented all of the Harrington recommendations, but have you really addressed the underlying issues?  Take for example the matter of audio recording WCAs.
Yes, you arranged a trial (albeit it was an extremely poorly conceived and managed project which meant accurate interpretation of results was impossible) and you made clear recommendations to offer the facility widely, recognising as long ago as Spring 2011 that there was rapidly increasing demand.  By contrast, you now only offer the service on a ‘best endeavours’ basis, which could in the extreme mean not at all, or at best on some sort of unpredictable, random basis.  I cannot see how this is tenable and indeed fair to claimants.
It is rarely discussed, so you may wish to comment on the justifiable lack of trust in the process that brought this suggestion about in the first place– even Professor Harrington could see it and you clearly agreed, hence your recommendation.  There are only two possibilities given the current situation:
·         Either you believe the underlying problem has been resolved, in which case what specific evidence do you have to show this is the case?  Or
·         The underlying problem still exists (and increasing demand for audio indicates it is getting worse), so what is your alternative plan to get rid of it? 
7)        Returning to the difference between change & improvement, descriptor amendments were implemented around March 2011. One of these was to remove all references to bending and kneeling within the WCA on the basis that neither is relevant to the workplace any longer.  I am sure I do not need to point out to you that:
·      Every single warehouse in the country (if not world), stores stock down to floor level.
·      Every single self-service retail outlet in the country (if not world) stores merchandise down to floor level.
·      4-drawer filing cabinets are still widely in use and I believe the vast majority of offices still use the bottom drawer.
There have been suggestions that this change was ‘evidence-based’ but in fact relies upon unproven assumptions about compliance with certain equality legislation – in fact one quoted report says precisely the opposite.  The truth is that it was a thinly veiled ruse to cut points and bias assessment in the desired direction.  Nobody has been fooled.
 
8)        You suggest an error rate of “only” 9%.  9% may not sound too bad, but just consider it against:
·           GPs making a wrong diagnoses
·           Surgeons undertaking unnecessary operations
·           The transfusion service wrongly classifying blood types
·           And even cars that are unsafe but are passed through an MOT.
In all of these areas, such an error rate would cause outrage.  
You carefully refer to this as decision errors rather than assessment errors – ok, so what is the assessment error rate bearing in mind those FFW recommendations from Atos that are corrected by DWP before an appeal is raised?  Somewhat higher I presume.
You are assuming (without evidence) that the absence of an appeal means the FFW recommendation was correct, which is of course not necessarily so.    This percentage is no more meaningful than me suggesting to you that the true overall assessment error rate is more likely to be 40%, based on Tribunal data.  I would not do this as I understand the limitations of the data and you should do likewise.  “Spin” will prove to be the scourge of the 21st Century.  All this does is again highlight the overriding need for universally agreed, objective performance measures.
 The frequent suggestion that DMs and Tribunals have more information than HCPs is a myth and confirmed by analyses from the TS itself.  Even if it was true, you have only yourselves to blame – you go to great lengths to tell claimants how to prove who they are, but do nothing to ensure they bring all the medical information they could to help the assessment.  It is as if you don’t want to know. 
·          Do you regard this figure of 9% as acceptable, at least for the time being? The answer can only be yes or no.
·         Do you make any attempt to track assessment error by seriousness – clearly there is a fundamental difference between extreme and marginal mistakes.
·         What is your target error rate (accepting it will never be 0%) and when will you reach this figure?  If you don’t have one, how will you know when you have reached the end-point?  There is no value in looking for improvements that are in reality unachievable – an expensive waste of time.
·         How can you be sure that the current model and process is capable of reaching this target?   
9)        Whilst in theory the WCA is only part of the decision process, it without doubt carries the greatest weight by a long way – and quite right too - it is disingenuous of you to suggest otherwise.  If its significance is understated, it will reduce the urgency to get it right on the false assumption that there are adequate checks and balances further down the line.  DWP DMs have no medical training.
10)     You mention the training given to your staff, but you do not have a foolproof mechanism that guarantees their qualifications are always up to date.  This has been confirmed by DWP through FoI Act requests.
11)      Where are these independent reviews that confirm high standards of service?  You claim they are accurate, impartial and statistically sound, but given previous misrepresentations (spin), this is hard to believe. 
Your “Mystery Shopping” programme is in fact no more than a site/admin audit and does not touch (as one would expect) on the WCA itself.  These audits no doubt have a place, but call them something else that accurately describes their content.  Similarly, the audio recording trial in Newcastle was approached in such an ill-thought out, haphazard manner, none of the conclusions it drew could be treated with any credence, which in part explains the chaos around the principle now.   
12)     You are clearly complicit in the deception and dishonesty within the process and support the ‘benefit scrounging’ philosophy - if you did not, you would approach the task in a far more open and honest manner. The hypothetical wheelchair mobility evaluation sums this up perfectly, not to mention all of the unsupported assumptions made elsewhere (a visit to a supermarket means you can walk unaided and without pain for at least 800m – where on earth did that come from?).  You cannot expect respect by attempting to defend the indefensible. 

Yours sincerely

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

ESA - further insight into DWP's philosophy

The less obvious manifestations of DWP’s exemplary approach to customer service.
Unless you fall foul of DWP’s sensitivities there is much that goes on of which you would be blissfully unaware, so the purpose of this posting is to warn you that all may not be as it seems based on my own (albeit limited) experience.
Firstly, there is the little known acronym “UPC” – Unreasonably Persistent Customer, which is a status attributed to anyone who in DWP’s view is making a nuisance of themselves.  It is a totally unilateral designation which although it has certain consequences, you are not told directly that you have achieved this accolade.  I only found out about mine by chance through an unrelated SAR (Subject Access Request under the Data Protection legislation).
One of the upshots is that you are assigned a single point of contact within DWP, which means that any communication you attempt with anyone within DWP is funnelled through this one person – this even applies if you are following one of their published procedures – your mail is still intercepted.  You are at least told who this person is.  It is hard not to get the impression that you are being treated as a pariah, with a degree of contempt and are presented with every obstruction imaginable.  I was recently told that through the programme to improve customer service, my responses would now take up to 3 weeks rather than 2.  Nobody has yet been able to explain how this represents an improvement -but hey, remember that DWP has its own dictionary.
There is at least an internal application procedure which has to be justified and approved before this status is designated, but my impression is that it goes through pretty much on the nod.  My SAR also provided some insight into the degree to which one might be investigated by the DWP “police”, which can be well beyond what might be regarded as necessary and clearly both an infringement of privacy rights and an overt attempt at persecution/intimidation.  DWP of course not only has its own extensive IT resources but also has Atos in the wings, so I doubt there is little they could not unearth if they had a mind to.   There is no reason to assume that their own internal controls will prevent this “Big Brother” heavy-handedness continuing.
Secondly, there is the “Customer Compliance Department” – an innocuous title but with a powerful and imprecise remit.  Manifestly it is there to investigate potential abuse on the path to accusations of fraud.  It does claim to also investigate cases of possible underpayment, but one has to wonder what proportion this forms of the overall workload.  There is some information available on the internet and it is clear that their style is deliberately aggressive taking the form of an interrogation rather than an interview, with a clear presumption of guilt over innocence despite protestations to the contrary.
My introduction came through a short, totally unexpected letter demanding my attendance at my local JC+ office a few days hence, with the usual thinly veiled threats if I did not instantly comply.  It contained no explanation or information either in general or specific to my referral, which in itself was highly intimidating and clearly intended to be so.  So I immediately rang the Compliance Officer involved.
In a quite lengthy phone call he would not explain the basis of my referral, pointing out that very many of their leads come from the members of the public calling their “Hotline”, as a result of which they HAVE to instigate an investigation.  This is evidently the case no matter how vague and unsupported the call might be and the fact that the caller will not disclose their identity – even if they do, DWP’s promise of anonymity would prevent them passing the information on.  He didn’t quite say it, but there was a strong inference that this was the source of the information.  I’ll come back to the credibility of this later.
DWP has assessed my work capability wrongly three times in a row on its own admission.  In the most recent sham, the FFW decision was reversed before reaching formal appeal and involved senior members of staff from both DWP and Atos, so one would have thought the decision was well considered and robust.  However it appears it can be completely undermined by an anonymous phone call containing an accusation with no substance whatsoever.  This is either complete bollox or DWP really needs to recruit more competent senior staff if it has so little faith in their judgement. 
Compliance-Man also explained that my interview would not be under caution and he was only seeking to clarify certain matters, but would not say quite what they were or why he had any reason to doubt that the information he already had was anything other than wholly accurate. I would be expected to sign a statement of some kind but with no indication of what it might contain.  Also, there would be no medical questioning or examination - again, all very intimidating and a bit scary.
I decided to write to him in the strongest possible terms objecting fiercely to the implication that I was being in anyway dishonest over my ESA claim and demanding to know the reason(s) why he thought this might be the case – OK I wasn’t to be under caution and had not been accused of fraud per se, but I had already been accused of non-compliance which is only one small step away from criminality.
I received a fairly prompt reply stating that an interview would not be necessary after all evidently as my letter contained the information he needed – I still do not know what this might have been.  I have also asked what this information was not requested by post in the first place (it is quite perfectly acceptable for them to do this), but have not received an explanation.
So I am left wondering what the hell it was all about . . . . . . .  My conclusions are as follows having done a bit of background work.  I have never been diagnosed as paranoid, nor am I a great proponent of conspiracy theory, in fact rather the opposite preferring sound evidence, which rather speaks for itself here.
·         In reality, only a tiny proportion of compliance investigations stem from calls from members of the public.  By contrast, 3 in 4 arise from within DWP [confirmed through FoI request].
·         Nobody other than DWP & me knows I receive ESA.
·         Why haul me in for an interrogation, when a far more subtle and sensitive exchange of letters would have done the job just as well?

So it is pretty obvious, at least to any reasonable person, where the referral truly originated from and the motivation behind it.

As regards “Big Brother”, of course DWP denies any suggestion of discrimination, intimidation or persecution but will not confirm that my treatment has been “normal”.  It insists it has remained objective and impartial, but cannot explain why it has collected data that on its own admission has no bearing on my ongoing complaint with them.

This is all just another manifestation of the underlying ‘benefit scrounging scum’ philosophy that permeates every aspect of DWP welfare reforms.