ATOS – Helpful or Timewasters? You decide.

Sooo… the saga of ATOS and my medical continues. Having called them last week to ask if I could tape my medical, and being promised that I would be sent a letter and they would text me back, and neither happening, I called them again this morning. I got through to the Bristol centre on the first try, a little unexpected but not unwelcome. I politely said that I had called about taping the medical and I was just wondering what was happening?

They made it clear in no uncertain terms that I cannot tape the medical. They actually said, I swear, “let me just get the guidelines…” and then quoted them at me. For five minutes. If I want to tape my medical, I must have a professional sound engineer, a double tape deck capable of making simultaneous recordings and copies, the tape deck must be professionally calibrated before recording begins, I have to get the written consent of the healthcare professional conducting the medical beforehand and I must be able to hand a sealed copy of the finished tape to the healthcare professional at the end of the medical. They then said that the costs for all of this must be met by the claimant.

Excuse me? How is any benefit claimant supposed to arrange and afford all that?

I said, as politely and inoffensively as I could, that that seemed a little unreasonable. They said that the guidelines must be abided by and if I wanted, they could cancel my medical and have it rescheduled so I could have a witness with me, but that the file would be sent back to the DWP with a note explaining why.

In other words, they threatened to send me back with a note pinned to my chest saying that I’m a troublemaker. That’s nice.

I said I didn’t want to cancel my appointment, I only wanted to tape it, for my own use. They said they couldn’t comment as they were DWP guidelines and referred me to their manager, giving me another number to call. Realising I had reached an impasse with the assistant, I agreed to call the manager.

I called the manager and briefly explained why I was calling. They said they didn’t know anything about my case, that they were off-site and so didn’t have access to their computer and so couldn’t access info on my case, but that there was a number on my ATOS appointment letter and I could call that.

I explained that I had already called it, and they had referred me to the Bristol office, who had referred me to her. I said I just wanted to ask about taping the medical and why the guidelines were so harsh. They reiterated what the assistant had said, saying that they were DWP guidelines, and I would have to call them. They did say though, that after the assessment I can request a copy of the medical report, and again I would have to call the DWP office in St Austell, and she had found the number in her diary and helpfully gave it to me. Hm.

So I called the DWP. It turned out to be a general helpline number with a recorded message and options rather than an office, but I persevered and waited until the phone was obligingly picked up. After the usual security questions – I failed the mobile number question because it appears that despite several forms having been filled out since I changed it, they haven’t updated their records. Surprise. – and jumping through some hoops, we began a sensible conversation. Well, as sensible as it gets where the DWP is concerned. They asked me to confirm which benefits I claim. I confirmed that I get DLA but that I had stopped ESA two months ago. They asked whether the medical was for ESA or DLA. I said the letter said it was for ESA. They said that as I was no longer claiming ESA, the medical was no longer appropriate as it is a work capability assessment and since I am currently self-employed, the point is moot, and said that they would send a note to the benefit centre to have it cancelled.

This was done so casually that it took me by surprise. I had called to ask about the taping guidelines, now I was being told I didn’t have to go at all. I was so disbelieving that I asked several times if they were sure and if the medical wasn’t to check my six month ESA claim had been genuine or backdated or catching up with claims or something like that. They repeatedly and patiently said the same thing over and over – I am no longer claiming ESA, therefore there is no need for a medical. In the end I took that for an answer, but I’m still going to call the Bristol ATOS centre on Wednesday morning just to double check because heck knows if they’ll get that note or even take any notice of it.

There you have it. Several phone calls to ATOS, and I mentioned in at least two of those phone calls that my claim for ESA had ended. They didn’t bring me up on it or question it, and just assumed the medical was going ahead come rain or shine. One phone call to DWP and apparently, the whole thing’s off because it’s pointless. I could have told ATOS that.

I was so taken by surprise by this turn of events that I almost forgot my original reason for calling – to question the harshness of the guidelines on taping medicals. They said they had no idea as this was a general ESA helpline (!) but that the policies and guidelines were available online at direct.gov.uk. I decided not to push my luck, thanked them for their help, and signed off.

Does this mean I’m finally about to be left alone by the powers that be? I can only hope. For now, I leave it to you to judge: ATOS – helpful or timewasters?

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