PIP assessment recording: the PIP assessor who didn’t know what homelessness really was

I’ve posted below an extract from a PIP assessment recording I made.

Paul’s caravan – exterior

It shows that some Personal Independence Payment assessors have no idea what extreme poverty in our so-called modern era looks like.

It shows that some PIP assessors don’t know – or don’t believe – that such poverty and need exists.

That is a problem. These assessors make judgments on sick and disabled people’s eligibility for much-needed benefits.

They’re at a dangerous remove, because they carry out these assessments behind a desk.

They judge people’s needs by reading through a computer checklist in a room in an assessment centre.

As poverty worsens, that remove tells more and more.

I attended this PIP assessment a bit over a year ago in Rochdale with Paul, who was in his 60s.

Paul had a serious heart condition, chronic kidney disease and mobility difficulties. He’d had a pulmonary embolism.

He was also homeless. He lived in a tiny old caravan on a concrete site in Oldham.

Paul in his caravan

The problem? The PIP assessor had NO idea what such homelessness meant. I was struck by this. You can’t judge people’s needs if you can’t fathom their lives. You certainly can’t judge people’s needs if the assessment system you’re using doesn’t account for poverty.

Two things:

– the assessor expressed straight-out disbelief about Paul’s accommodation (“a caravan?” you’ll hear him ask with surprise in the audio below)

– the assessor showed a startling lack of imagination about the limits of such a caravan. He asked if there was a shower in the caravan.

He kept asking Paul what disability adaptions and aids he had in the caravan. You can see from the photos that the answers were No and None. Paul barely had four walls.


I find this too often with so-called professionals who assess people in poverty for much-needed sickness and disability benefits.

Bottom line is that assessors think that people in poverty have more than people actually do. They give every indication of thinking that people are better supported than people are. There’s a sense that the default position is that people are coping.

There was certainly a sense here that people who were sick or disabled and homeless simply couldn’t fall below a certain line.

Stove in the caravan

The fact that Paul didn’t have adaptations because he was literally living in a tin can without even a bucket for a toilet in it wasn’t on the radar.

Made you wonder if PIP assessors asked the same questions of homeless people who lived in tents.

The PIP assessor even asked if social services had been around to see Paul’s caravan could be adapted.

I think the assessor wanted to see an occupational therapy report – he wanted proof that Paul needed help and should get PIP because of that.

Assessors are obsessed with formal reports and pieces of paper – the certificates and reports that cost money, require ID and are harder and harder to get for people who are pushed to the fringes.

Paul’s caravan was as basic as caravans get. It was old, tiny, broken down and cramped. The caravan was so small that Paul couldn’t stretch out on the interior ledge that served as a bed. You couldn’t lean on the walls, let alone fit a handrail to them.

The caravan had no toilet or shower. There was a toilet and shower block on the Oldham site where the caravan was parked. Paul had to use that.

I realise that questions about adaptions and aids are usually asked at PIP assessments, but I wondered what the assessor was seeing in his mind: Paul living in a nice two-deck Winnebago in which you might fit a wet shower and a stairlift?

Here’s the conversation:

Assessor: The home that you’re living in – what would you describe it as?

Paul: I’m homeless…

Assessor: Homeless. Right. You do not live in a house at all?

Paul: I actually live in a caravan.

Assessor: Caravan. Caravan…? Caravan. Now, in the home do you use any aids or adaptations that are there for you…? What are they?

Paul: If I lived in a house, then I would be needing preferably a bungalow so there are no stairs…if I lived in a bungalow, I need a walk-in shower and preferably a seat to sit on…

Assessor: Yeah, but in answer to the question that I asked. Do you have any aids at the moment…

Paul: I have elbow crutches…

Assessor: Elbow crutches. Anything else?

Paul: No

Assessor: Have you been assessed by social services… or anyone that has been around to your caravan to see if there’s anything that they could do for you…

Paul: No

Assessor: When you wash, is there a shower in this caravan?

Paul: No…There’s a shower on site, there is a shower block…

Assessor: All right. There’s a shower you use in the shower block.”




The post below is an excerpt from a series of covert PIP and ESA recordings I’ve made in austerity.

The transcribing of these recordings will form part of an interview and assessment collection made possible thanks to a Barry Amiel & Norman Melburn Trust grant.


54 thoughts on “PIP assessment recording: the PIP assessor who didn’t know what homelessness really was

  1. Thanks, Kate.

    I’m getting support from my local Green Party colleagues in Hereford regarding my own PIP assessment rubbish with Capita, and shall send a copy of my ‘work in progress’ report-cum-briefing notes for local Green Party External Communications Officer, and this blog post too to my Tory MP.

  2. Perhaps they should change it so that the PIP Assessors themselves do home visits?

    I have experience of living (temporarily) in a small caravan, but in bit better shape than this and I was young and not ill. Mine was about 14ft long and there was me, the wife, and a cat. There was no mains electric, no shower, but there was an old barn on site converted into baths & toilets, though pretty basic and you were lucky if there was any hot water. I don’t think we had any heating but there was a small cooking stove that worked off a gas bottle so we just lit that to warm the place up, but then you had to open a window a bit for ventilation. It was very damp in there. But at least the fold-out bed functioned ok. And were out all day as were both working full time.

    I know a guy now who lives on a dilapidated canal boat, he’s 60 and has various illnesses, Vertigo, a stomach hernia (same as myself), and has most recently also been diagnosed with OPD (think that’s what it’s called, a lung disorder) as well as an enlarged prostate. He was on ESA but last time I saw him he’d been reassessed as fit for work and his benefits have been stopped. There’s people all over this country living in Victorian conditions, in 21st century Britain, it’s appalling.

    • I have just discovered that yet another old friend of mine has kicked the bucket. He had a heart problem and was taking 4 tablets per day, which he had been told he would have to take for life, but that didn’t stop the DWP from declaring him fit for work, and now he’s dead. He was nearly 57. That makes 8 people I’ve known who have died in their 50s in the last 4 years.

    • I think it would make an incredibly huge difference if assessors were sent out to interview people in their homes. That way they would get a far better impression of someone’s level of need.

      Though shocking, the assessors apparent surprise/level of disbelief isn’t so hard to understand, as there is a general belief that people’s living conditions aren’t as bad as they were 60, 70 or 100 years ago. There is a serious disconnect that ignores the lack of available social housing, that much of it has been sold off. Social housing did so much to create the very mindset that fuels the levels of disbelief. Of course, the government, through the DWP won’t consider home visits as a default, as it would be too costly – and that’s where it’s at. There seems to be a lack of understanding, a lack of willingness to accept that there are inherent costs of running a humane society.

      Probably as shocking, if not perhaps more so, is the kind of reaction that we know that many, whose world view is deformed through being seen through the lens of the likes of the Daily Mail who will probably place the ‘blame’ for these conditions existing on those suffering them. How would they feel were it their parents, grandparents who were enduring such squalor?

      Providing a decent place to live would probably work out much cheaper than dealing with the attendant health costs caused through living in unsuitable accommodation, not to mention the more immediate and too often overlooked personal costs to the individual.

    • I wish people understood how fucked up the benefits bureaucracy really is – lost sick notes, instructions to attend appointments on dates which have passed, being told your mandatory reconsideration has been carried out (and upheld in favour of the DWP) without you requesting it or having the chance to contribute to it… the whole thing is a wreck.

  3. Truly appalling treatment of someone who needs decent housing ,benefits & healthcare.What have we become in the UK that people are living (barely)in conditions like this ?
    IMHO the solution is political .Remember all the poverty pork Channel 5 documentary’s when austerity was first being rolled out so the impoverishment & deaths of vulnerable people would have their impacts softened in the minds of the public ?
    Keep exposing Kate & I’ll keep sharing.

      • Thanks for that Trev. I read it, no surprises, and also read the comments, but no surprises there either, sadly, and the lumpen idiots of South Wales seem to have come out in force. However, it’s interesting to note that the Welsh Government is concerned, as the First Minister, Mark Drakeford is on record saying that he believes that things like social security, (i.e. ‘welfare’) are better being a reserved power, i.e. retained at Westminister level. I’m not sure why he is of this opinion, but it may be to distance himself from Plaid Cymru who want to see social security devolved to Wales. Drakeford is likely to have his position seriously challenged at the next Assembly elections, as Plaid Cymru came within an ace of taking his Cardiff West seat on the Assembly last election, which is quite surprising. I think that people are slowly beginning to realise that 100 years of Labour rule delivered a bit in the early days, but hasn’t delivered very much for many, many years.

        Personally I marginally favour Plaid Cymru, and usually vote for them, more in desperation than anything else, but I don’t really rate them that much as they are pretty insipid and only a tad more left leaning than Labour, which doesn’t really cut it for me.

        Even if ‘welfare’ were devolved to Wales, we’d still have to be extremely vigilant, as we have our own politicians who are every bit a bunch of shits as those in Westminster.

  4. This shows the reality of the cuts to support for sick and disabled people. It really is a hostile system. Look at those questions in the interview about walking to the shower. Implication, you must be reasonably mobile then – so less points.
    But this all goes to the huge change in official attitudes to disability over the past ten years. Goodbye Independent Living Fund and Disabled Living Allowance. Hello so-called ‘assessors’ working to targets, on the assumption that many people are faking or exaggerating their problems. In order to avoid having to work.

    • I’m a bit confused 😌 Would that £60 (erm…or £48 ?) per week be on top of JSA or in place of it? Personally I’d rather they scrapped conditional ‘dole’ altogether and just replace it with say £100 p/w UBI with no signing-on, no jobsearch requirements, no Adviser appointments or Work Coaches, in fact no bloody Jobcentre. Just give us the feckin money!

      • Yes, it is a bit confusing, but I think at this stage it’s still pretty much ‘back of an envelope’ stuff. (It’s still light years ahead of the Bright Blue nonsense though). £60 a week is rather low, and at the very least would need housing benefit. I’d also suggest that those figures are somewhat ‘conservative’ so that a figure could be arrived at that wasn’t so astronomical that it’d relegate it to lunatic fringe territory in the minds of the majority who tend to assume that these kinds of ideas are just fundamentally unaffordable.

        But yes, why not just give us the money! (and anyone over 60 should be on a pension anyway, and give the youngsters a chance! – if we were still under even New Labour it’s likely that anyone over 60 would be on Pension Credit anyway, as even New Labour were (a bit) more humane than this current lot.

    • Powerful piece. Michael McNulty’s comment is a bit chilling though, but I understand where he’s coming from. Perhaps it will have to come to that before the political class begins to take any real notice.

    • I don’t condone fraud, but is this so much different from the amount of money being poured into BTL landlord’s bank accounts?

      • True. There’s also mucky millions fiddled away by those at the top in various tax-dodging schemes etc. Rees Mogg’s Investment company has £90 Million stashed in dodgy Russian Banks, Lord Ashcroft with his non-dom arrangements, public money given to nonexistent ferry companies etc.etc.

  5. It seems the Tories are not only content with heaping mental & physical abuse on the poor, sick, and disabled, they actually covered up child abuse too:



    This is the sort of people we’ve got running the country, makes you wonder what else they are covering up, and what they are capable of. Never trust a Tory.

  6. I just heard something interesting on Radio 4’s Money Box programme regarding an alternative to Austerity via a restructuring of our economy based upon cancelling household debt. For us mere mortals it takes some getting your head round, but it comes down to the bizarre fact that the majority of what is counted as GDP is actually consumer debt, so when the Government (or Bank of England) say that the economy has grown by 1% it really means that we are all deeper in debt! It’s insane, but it doesn’t have to be this way.





    • Yep Trev, it is insane. An increase in house prices increases GDP which is why the housing market is encouraged, but sooner or later the housing market will crash, as there are relatively few people around that can afford prices that are x10 or more their incomes.

      • The economist/author being interviewed on the radio, Johann Montgomerie, really seemed to be on to something and made a lot of sense, I think her book will be worth a read but ironically at £35 I’d have to get into further debt to buy it!
        It’s all just one gigantic con trick, we’re in debt so (ostensibly) need to have Austerity imposed upon us, yet it’s all rigged from the start, we have a debt-based economy and that’s how Banks make their money, we have the goal of economic growth but which is fuelled by consumer debt. It’s a complete stitch-up, that we can never win, and never-ending Austerity is the result. Montgomerie reckons that by including household (personal) debt in monetary policy it can be written off thereby freeing up Trillions of £s that could solve poverty and the housing crisis for good. Of course the Banking establishment won’t want that to happen and how do you persuade the great British public to wake up to what’s happening, that we’re all being had for mugs, when it’s far easier to convince them to just blame each other? Blame the poor, Benefit claimants, immigrants, the sick, the homeless, keep working for peanuts so you can get deeper in debt. People need to seriously wake the fuck up.

      • Oh, the book is available in paperback for £9.99, next time I’ve got a spare tenner might get that . It’s the hardback that’s £35

        • Still pricey if you’re a claimant though. I would have suggested going to a library in more enlightened times before the Tories closed them all! Yes, the whole debt thing is disgusting. After a certain time, debts get sold off to specialist companies for a fraction of their value, but the original debt for the debtor still stands, which if the debt eventually gets paid off, the company that took on the debt makes a fortune. I remember reading of a scheme linked to the Occupy movement in the USA where a group of very organised activists had set themselves up as a body that bought up bad debts, usually sub-prime mortgages if I remember correctly, and were then cancelling it:


          The whole system is a fraud, as when a bank lends money, it is really just conjuring it up out of thin air, and basically the borrower is paying interest on money that will come into existence when they pay the debt, only they are being fleeced with interest for ‘borrowing’ it. Though how anyone can borrow money that doesn’t exist is beyond me. It’s a scam.

          I would buy the book, but I’ve just spent that money on another book, Martin Johnes ‘Wales: England’s Colony?’ Which has been published to accompany a tow part BBC series, which can be watched here:


          Usual arrangements can be implemented if you are interested Trev, and are having difficulties… Just let me know 😉

  7. You don’t mention whether the assessor was from Atos or Capita, Kate.

    Anyhow, while going through my own Capita PIP mess today, it occurred to me today that it’s at least ‘ironic’ that Capita administer the ‘Disclosure and Barring Service’ that is supposed to help protect vulnerable people as service users.

    • So Capita are responsible for declaring people as fit for work and forcing them back in to the world of jobseeking whilst also running the DBS that prevents many people from gaining employment in the first place.

    • You really couldn’t make it up could you? I mean the answer to people not being able to manage because what they are getting as benefit isn’t enough to cover their costs of living, so the DWP gives them a loan, which further diminishes their ability to manage, as they now have a debt with a loan shark who doesn’t even need to threaten violence, (I said need to, it just likes to, as in the case of sanctions, which are a form of violence) to get its money back, it just deducts it at source, ditto any rent or utility arrears.

      Then you get a sanction, which despite what the DWP say, as far as a claimant is concerned, is functionally, a reduction. If the DWP paid more attention to people’s real needs instead of trying to hide behind semantics then maybe we’d be approaching where we need to be.

      Loved the inclusion of the Tweet by Rudd, kind of demonstrates just how out of touch our rulers are.

      I suppose things could be worse, the people behind UC could have been in charge of the implementation of Brexit… Oh wait!
      One would think that they would have improved, and in an absurd way they have, they’re even worse at Brexit than they are at Universal Credit, and that is a real achievement.

      Oh, and government technology is once again finding itself lacking – the UK Government and Parliament petition site is down again, for about the fourth time today, as the petition to revoke Article 50 keeps crashing because so many want to sign it.

        • I caught that on the BBC’s 6 o’clock news, though I’d heard rumblings a while ago that 3,500 troops were being held in reserve in case of a No Deal Brexit, which at the moment seems more likely than not – still, we’ve got the result of the petition yes, (if it can stop crashing) and also Saturday’s march in London, which looks as if it might be huge.

          I’m not sure about martial law just yet, but if we get one of the ERG after May is sacked then all bets are off. Then it won’t be sanctions, it’ll more likely be bonded labour. (And they’ll need those troops for their own personal protection).

          • I think it’s more likely to be SA80s or variants of as Sten guns went out of fashion in 1953 – but yes, it will be a tad concerning if they are allowed to keep their guns, but maybe they’ll want to protect themselves from the increasingly trigger happy police, who don’t seem to go anywhere these days without being tooled up.

          • Ha yes, sten guns were already obsolete in 1977 then, from whence I quoted The Clash !

          • Would have been Sterling guns then, a slightly ‘posher’, read; ‘not-made-in-hurry-out-of-anything-suitable-to-hand-for-ten-bob’ form of sub-machine gun. The Sterling was my dad’s weapon of choice when on RAF exercises in Cold War Germany.

  8. Just been reading yet another article on the big concern of the moment, and in the comments section came across this quote about the whole Tory Leaver rhetoric about it being child’s play.

    “For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”

    Seems very apt for something else the Tories thought up that they obviously thought would work with a simple solution.

    • I saw a good one that had been posted somewhere on the net (Twitter?) by some wit & then shown on Vox Political ;

      “Does anyone know how to cancel an eBay bid? I just bid £10 on a cowboy outfit and am now 5 minutes away from owning the Tory party”

      Hahaha 😂

  9. I had a similar conversation in my first assessment, although no where near as bad. I was asked if I had an adapted car. I said no – I couldn’t afford one. I was then told I clearly didn’t need one if I didn’t have one.

    How did that make sense?

    When I was finally awarded DLA (high rate x 2 indefinitely after two tribunals turning me down) I used my payment to get an adapted car with a wheelchair hoist. The assessor just literally couldn’t comprehend someone not being able to afford something they need didn’t mean it wasn’t needed!

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