Friday, 22 July 2011

Why won't ATOS let us record our Work Capability Assessments?

As you will know if you have read my recent blog post "What's wrong with ATOS", there is often a large disparity between what is said during a Work Capability Assessment and what ATOS actually reports to the department of work and pensions. The reports take no account of context in answers ("I can do x IF...") and often fail to note that an action or activity may be possible for a patient, but will have consequences for their health and may not be repeatable. As a result claims are often appealed and ultimately referred to a tribunal.

At that tribunal the patient must demonstrate that the ATOS report is not true for the above reasons. It is permitted for the patient to be accompanied by a friend to witness the assessment, but an audio recording would be the ideal proof. Unfortunately ATOS have made it nearly impossible for anyone to record their assessment.

Many people have attempted to record their assessment using mobile phones, digital sound recorders or dictaphones. Nearly every time ATOS have halted the assessment and refused to continue while being recorded. On some occasions the patient has relented and stopped recording, on others they have been asked to leave and their report has stated that they did not attend their assessment, resulting in their benefit being stopped.

In a response to a Freedom of Information request made at the end of 2010 the Department of Work and Pensions provided the official guidelines to ATOS staff regarding recording of assessments. The most important parts are quoted here.
"Such a request can only be agreed with the prior consent of the HCP, and then only if stringent safeguards are in place to ensure that the recording is complete, accurate and that the facility is available for simultaneous copies to be made available to all parties present. The recording must be made by a professional operator, on equipment of a high standard, properly calibrated by a qualified engineer immediately prior to the recording being made. The equipment must have facility for reproduction so that all parties can retain a copy of the tape. The responsibility for meeting the cost of the above requirement rests with the claimant"

"It is for Atos Healthcare, in conjunction with their legal advisers, to determine the action to be taken in the event of a claimant making an audio or video recording without the prior knowledge and consent of the HCP, or without ensuring that the safeguards defined above are in place"

"If you suspect a customer of trying to film or record an assessment the following action should be taken

Advise the customer that such action is not permitted, explain why not, and ask them to switch the device off. If the customer refuses to comply:

  • The assessment should be suspended

  • Inform your site manager and/or medical manager immediately"
From this it is clear that recording by the patient will not be permitted, will result in the assessment being stopped and might result in legal action by ATOS. What is strange is the circumstances in which they will allow recording. It must be

  • Recorded by a professional operator

  • on professional equipment

  • immediately duplicated in front of ATOS staff

  • paid for by the patient

This is obviously impractical to arrange and priced far out of reach of the patient, who is receiving Employment and Support Allowance to live on, at approx £60 - £100 per week.

In a court case in June 2008 a judge ruled on a patient who had been denied benefit and lost his appeal after ATOS reported that he did not attend because he attempted to record his assessment. The judge ruled that he should be allowed to start his assessment process all over again, because he had not been advised that he could arrange for recording of the assessment in stricter circumstances. What is interesting is the other comments by the judge in his findings.
45. The appellant makes a number of good points in this context. He draws attention to the considerable (and probably prohibitive) cost that would be involved for an individual living on benefits in meeting the Department’s restrictive criteria. He rightly points out that those conditions (which include the presence of a qualified engineer) are actually stricter than those in place for police interviews with suspects. He might also have added that the Department’s own protocols for interviewing claimants under caution in the course of benefit fraud investigations do not require the presence of a qualified engineer (although dual-tape machines and sealed tapes are used).

Let me repeat that: ATOS' requirements are stricter than those for police interviews, and stricter than their own interviews for benefit fraud applications.

So, we get to the really important question. Why do ATOS make it so difficult to record assessments?

There is one relatively good reason. They are worried that a single recording taken by the patient could be digitally altered and then presented before a tribunal as proof. They wish to counter this by having a duplicate recording in their own possession. This does seem a reasonable request, but their chosen methods are over the top and unnecessary.

ATOS also state that "Medical Services view unauthorised and secret recording to be an invasion of privacy." Now, if this were a private conversation between two friends, that might be the case. But this is not. This is an assessment carried out on behalf of the government and with life-changing consequences for the patient. It often starts a process which ends up in the legal system. In these circumstances, it is wrong to claim that recording is an invasion of privacy. In an assessment as grave and important as this, are they really saying that the assessor is going to say something which should not be reported, and that he won't do so when officially being recorded? Because to me, that suggests that they think their staff might be unprofessional in their behaviour.

I think ATOS is clearly wrong to obstruct recording of Work Capability Assessments. At best, this is an uncaring attitude which shows lack of respect for the patient or of any concern over the outcome of their benefit claim. At worst, this is wilful obstruction of justice and a prevention of a proper outcome at a tribunal. There is a simple solution to this. ATOS should allow every patient to record their interview in any way that they wish to, openly so that their staff need have no concerns about privacy. If they are worried about a recording being altered to be used against them, then they should also record every interview themselves. They need not go to the expense of dual recording equipment if they allow patients to make their own recording.

Of course, they won't do this. ATOS must be fully aware of the failure rate of their assessments and the large number of successful appeals against them. They know that if a large number of recordings were to be made, they would be shown up by the vast contradiction between what is said and what is recorded. They would be shown to be either incompetent or to have an agenda against benefit claimants.

This has been cross-posted from the authors blog at


  1. We the disabled are treated worse than prisoners! Disgraceful state of affairs, like we are guilty and have to fight to prove our innocence! Its worse than living in a police state.

  2. It's in the public interest that these asssessments be recorded so that the wider public, who are paying for this, may be made properly aware of what they're paying for. That's Atos' great fear,of course, that word will finally get out about what actually goes on at these assessments. That's what did for Unum in the States, you see, as Googling will reveal.


  3. This means that if you borrowed a set of dual recording equipment (from, perhaps, the DWP) you still wouldn't be able to record your assessment.

    So completely wrong, on so many levels.

  4. One of the key recommendations of the Harrington Report issued at the end of last year was for the piloting of audio recordings of ATOS assessments. The outcome of such pilots, if they do indeed take place, is to be reviewed in the second Harrington Report, to be issued later this year. This Report, like the first one, will be freely available online, and I think we will all be well advised to scrutinize it in detail and give our responses in whatever channels are available to us. Incidentally, Harrington is now asking for people with experience of current ATOS assessments to make submissions, so everyone concerned should make their case in the strongest terms possible.

  5. Surely in these days of Mr Camerons open and honest everything in the public domain government we should be allowed to record our own confidental interview and let who we want see it!

  6. Hi

    How about this, why not ask (before hand) for a copy of there computer tick boxs screen by screen shots,thats done on the day.

    If they do not trust us about recording, how can we trust them not to change the ticks they made. We would then be able to guage if we need to appeal. Or am I wrong.

  7. My suggestion is to take along a notebook pc with recording software on it (Audacity, for example - free to download and use) and set it recording at the start of the interview - having notified in advance that you plan to do this. At the end of the assessment, stop the recording and save the file, then export it to a CDR (NOT RW), (on the spot whilst still in the room) and make two copies, one for the assessors and one for yourself - then, making sure the assessors are witnessing, DELETE the file from the notebook pc and get an assessor to sign your (non-rewritable) CD to confirm it is the original, untampered-with recording...... surely that would be acceptable, no?

  8. @Bizzybee: deleting the file from the PC would be pointless as it could be reloaded at any point.

    The veracity of the recording is actually only a side issue here as any challenge to the conclusions based on counterfeiting what was said would have to be separately justified in an appeal hearing and would be instantly suspect when the discrepancies in the recording became apparent. We have to conclude that the barriers are being erected not because ATOS or DWP fear our counterfeiting what was said, but because they fear the truth of their conduct being made apparent to all.

    The trial of recordings suggested by Harrington is a welcome development, but the sheer fact of being recorded will alter the behaviour of the ATOS HCPs, meaning that the trial cannot be used as evidence that there is not a problem. The only solution to make the process transparently fair for all is to have the assessment recorded, all documentation from the process (including inputs to LiMA) provided to both sides, and the LiMA algorithms released into the public domain.

  9. My first assessment was so full of mistakes and half truths and out and out lies, I wondered if it was even me who was being discussed in it.
    So when I was sent a letter for another one I sent my husband out to buy a recording device, a dictaphone. They are quite cheap from a well known catalogue company.

    I turned up with my husband as I had done for the first appointment, the so called doctor introduced herself, asked my husband to sit as far away from me as possible. He leaned over placed the dictaphone in my hand said "its on" and I placed it on an empty space on the desk.

    The look on the womans face was priceless, I swear I have never seen anyone recoil in horror the way she did.

    "Sorry you can't record this" yes I can, "no you can't" why not?? "it's not allowed" why?? I want a copy for my own records I already stated over and over to your company that my medication makes me forgetful so I want a record of who said what and in what context for my own records, why is that not allowed?? "it's not allowed" you keep saying that why is it not allowed?? "it can't be used for legal purposes" ehhh whit are you on about?? I never said a word about legal purposes did I?? Up to you of course because I am here now and I can't promise I will be available without a lawyer and the official recording devices for next time . . . . . . . . interview started.

    I am not a believer in hiding things do it out in the open, let them whinge and whine let them um and ahh let them go red in the face while they frantically try to keep up with you, not the other way around.
    Why should we be scared to turn up with a dictaphone, or mobile?? I say I have forgetfulness its well documented in all the forms I had returned to the DWP, I am not lying.
    Strangely the report on that interview was correct all my answers were as I gave them, none were changed to fit whatever twisted agenda they were supposed to.

    Moral of my tale is I intend to take the dictaphone to all ATOS appointments, let them argue with me, I will provide a piece of paper and a black pen, and ask them to write in block caps that they are agreeing with my account of my condition and they do not see any further testing at that time, to be appropriate with me. Of course they will never do that so me recording will be the lesser of the evils.

  10. i agree with you 100% Await The Night, I sent an email to ATOS to ask why they refuse to allow the recording of assessments it took 19 minutes to reply asking for my NINO I did say I intended to record my next assessment and that if asked to turn off the Dictaphone I will tell the HCP they are also they haver to stop making any recording of the assessment and conduct a paper assessment. I am now going to send another email headed FOI REQUEST asking why they refuse to allow claimants to record their assessment. I don't intend to mention anything about me recording future assessments, that is is I haven't been put on their blocked list.

  11. is this the way nazis started its just sick how can englands people stand for this too treat the ill like this

  12. Hi all
    I'm wondering if anyone knows of any options to legitimately record their atos appointment. I have asked for the chance to do this and received the now standard letter, but having subsequently looked into it, and could only find a twin synchronised tape deck (like the kind they use in police/detective shows) available from a company named Neal. To hire such a thing I was quoted £250 plus VAT for a day.
    Now I in no way have that kind of disposable cash.
    Does anyone know of any other ways to do this to atos' acceptance.
    I have some earlier experience in sound recording (before I fell sick) and have a fairly recent handheld pro standard digital recorder which i picked up second hand a few years ago (mainly out of interest) and thought I could use that which would record direct to an SD card - that would however leave me with the problem of their (atos') copy on cassette.
    So I was thinking on purchasing a reasonable quality cassette recorder from somewhere like ebay and attaching it to my digital recorder's output so i can give them a cassette copy while I retain the digital version.
    Surely they couldn't object to that?
    Please get back to me with your thoughts.
    Many thanks.

  13. who wants to bet ATOS are getting paid 'x' amount from the government for how ever many people they get kicked off benefits, hence the super secrecy when it comes to recording the interview in case they get caught out and sued! I am so sick of this now, i have been through this twice now with ATOS so i am recording my interview when it comes around again and if it doesn't match the report its getting posted all over the internet so everyone can see what a set of lying p***ks they are!

  14. David Cameron, Nick Clegg, Ian duncan Smith, Gove, Miller, Harrington, Lord Fraud, Osborne. All wealthy, no worries, no handicaps, with no disabilities. These people are tantamount to the Nazi's with their relentless campaign of hate, and victimization, and harassment towards what they conceive as undesirables. They will each have to meet their maker one day, and be judged on their dreadful un-kindness towards the vulnerable. David Cameron should be utterly ashamed of himself, and his wife, they had a disabled son do they not feel any compassion for others in the same boat?

  15. See the written reply to Mr frank Field MP from Grayling this week,it basically says you can have a recording done if you request it when returning esa50 if ATOS are unable to do it the "medical" will be resheduled to a later time.The DWP are providing more recorders.ATOS have been telling fibs that all are broken and have recently been saying the DWP have said they are to go ahead even if recorder not available -particular "medicals" at Nottingham.,see extensive discussion on same on a search on atos will find the discussion.In other words now ASK AND IT SHALL BE DONE>