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‘It Was Like A Poker Game’: On The Receiving End Of A DWP Cold Call

March 3, 2020

The call came out of the blue. Jennifer Ellis* had been rejected for personal independence payments (Pip) in October 2018 having scored zero points, despite struggling daily with bipolar type 2.

Ellis threw herself into the standard appeals process and waited for a tribunal date. But in February 2019, she got a call from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP): it had “re-evaluated her situation” and wanted to offer her 11 points.

Ellis describes it as “a poker game”: if she took the offer, she could bank the standard care rate but feared she would miss out on the higher award she needed. If she turned it down, she was told, she would go back down to zero points and have to risk it at a tribunal.

She was given five days to make a decision, and was not told she had a right to ask for legal advice. “They were dangling a carrot. They said I might have to wait another six months for an appeal date, with no money. But [if I took it], I’d get the money now, with back pay.”

Ellis turned down the offer but said she was made to feel “really uncomfortable” doing so. “It was like: ‘Well, if you want to take your chances’.”

The stress of it triggered her condition, and she began to fixate on the calls, anxiously questioning her decision. Her mental health means she struggles in social situations and she began to panic about going to court. “In my head, going to tribunal was the process – I could have coped. But when you get a call, you think: ‘Am I being stupid?’ It threw me totally.”

After a week, Ellis relented: she called the DWP and took the offer. “I just wanted it to stop,” she said. “I thought: ‘I can’t take this any more.’”

In one letter seen by the Guardian, Ellis’s assessor notes a number of concerns about her mental health – including her “chaotic thought process” and “difficulty making decisions” – but she was nonetheless contacted with the cold call without any support.

“I’ve attempted suicide many times,” she said. “Why would they put someone in a position that’ll obviously distress them?”

Ellis said she worries about other people getting these calls who are vulnerable to accepting a deal. “This sort of stress can push people to their limits … There’s no advice on whether this is normal, or what to do. You feel almost obliged to take it.”

Months later, Ellis said she regretted accepting the offer. “I wish they hadn’t called me. Now I’m stuck with the decision for two years.”

* Name has been changed.

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