8 March 2006
The DWP continues to break the law in order to keep details of its new computerised disability living allowance assessment system secret. Bizarrely the Department is now claiming that one of the reasons they cannot release documents Benefits and Work has requested is that DWP staff included their home contact details in training materials!
Regular readers will remember that in December 2005 we revealed that a new computerised points system, designed we believe in partneship with IBM, was being piloted to assess disability living allowance claims. (New DLA 'points' system: zero for heroes - and many others 06.12.05 ) Although we managed to obtain some details of the new system using the Freedom of Information Act, the DWP failed to provide us with screenshots of the new system or training materials that we had asked for.
Our original request was made in September 2005, yet five months later the DWP say that the issue of providing screenshots is still "with the lawyers". In addition, they are claiming that training materials showing how to use the new system cannot yet be released because the staff who wrote them included their own home addresses in case studies and months later these have yet to be removed.
Under the Freedom of Information act the DWP should inform us how much longer they require to make a decision about disclosure and why they need the time. Any extension of time limits also has to be reasonable. Five months to make a decision and tippex out some addresses strikes us as taking the mickey. But the culture of secrecy and of protecting the interests of multinational companies rather than the interests of claimants, to the extent of defying the law if necessary, seems now to be deeply entrenched within the DWP. So much for Freedom of Information - but Benefits and Work won't be going away: we've set a two week deadline before we appeal to the commissioners even if we haven't had a decision to appeal about.