The PHSO’s systemic report into ATW – a missed opportunity

By nubsli-dev | Published on 31 October 2017

Darren Townsend-Handscomb writes about the release of the PHSO report into complaints against Access to Work.

On 25 October 2017 the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) released their systemic report on the problems that led to 60 people complaining to them about Access to Work’s (AtW) deteriorating service in 2014.

From late 2013, Deaf and disabled people had begun experiencing a frightening change in attitude by AtW, who had started imposing unreasonable limitations on awards (such as the ‘30 hour’ rule), making changes to awards without discussion with the customer, and communicating in an arrogant and insensitive manner.

In response to complaints about these issues, AtW were unrepentant and evasive. In consequence of the problems with their awards, some Deaf people were unable to function effectively at work, experienced severe and prolonged stress and anxiety, and felt bullied. Some interpreters and interpreting agencies were left thousands of pounds out of pocket from unpaid invoices.

PHSO fully or partly upheld most of the complaints brought to them, and put individual injustices right. However, PHSO also promised to publish a report making systemic recommendations on how AtW should improve, tackling the underlying issues, including the systemic barriers to complaining.

PHSO publish their report

Three and a half years later, PHSO has quietly slipped out a weak and rather pointless ‘report’ that fails to say anything meaningful. The report makes no recommendations, and apologises to AtW for not having explained well enough why they took on the complaints.

Although it does describe some of the issues complained about, and mentions the impact of those, no mention is made of the atrocious complaints handling people experienced when trying to challenge AtW’s actions; no explanation is given as to why this ‘rigidity’ was allowed to happen and continued for so long despite the clear evidence of the harm it was doing; and no explanation is given for the serious delay in issuing the report. PHSO concludes that AtW has already made all of the improvements it could make, but offers no evidence to support this beyond AtW’s word.

At the very least DeafATW would have expected the PHSO, who are responsible for sharing their “findings more widely to help drive improvements in public services and complaint handling”, to have checked that ATW’s current complaints scheme is accessible and functions according to the Ombudsman’s own Principles of Good Complaints Handling. DeafATW’s experience is that whilst some improvements have been made, the complaints procedure is still not accessible to BSL users, and that the quality of complaints handling is patchy.

Not surprisingly the report has had zero impact on social media, or in the mainstream media. PHSO have done no promotion of the report such as radio interviews or news articles.

PHSO have let complainants down with this missed opportunity.


Read more about the PHSO report

You can read the Disability News Service (DNS) comment on this, here.

To read more about the ’30-hour rule’ at the heart of this, visit Deaf AtW.

You can read the PHSO’s ‘A report of investigations into complaints about Access to Work’ on their website.