Tuesday 11 October 2011

Did you know this about your ESA50 form?

We're all spoonies here. Or disabled. Or carers. Or families and friends of someone who is. Or just nice people who want to help put an injustice right.

With that in mind, we all know how it feels to fill in a DLA (Disability Living Allowance) claim form or an ESA50 form. (For Employment and Support Allowance )

On the whole, I think we see them as necessary evils. Yes, they could be shorter, but mostly, the people I speak to would rather lay their life bare on an impersonal form than face to face to a complete stranger.

If you're a scrounger, I imagine they are a chance for creative juices to flow freely, but if you're ill or disabled and you have a painful or difficult life, then chances are that the time you spend filling in those forms are the only time your really face all of your limitations.

It can be soul destroying. People who spend their lives painting on a smile, trying to offer a cheery "fine" when loved one's ask how they are; people who push themselves beyond "normal" limits; push through unimaginable challenges every day must face that paper day of reckoning when actually, they must write in painstaking detail how "not fine" they really are.

We must admit to every last aid we use (even the one's we pretend we don't.) We must list every last episode of incontinence, every time we forgot where we were or had a massive seizure in the middle of a crowded shopping centre, peeing ourselves in public. We must admit times when we may have been a danger to ourselves or others. We must admit just how much support our loved ones give us and just how little we can do for ourselves.

Has to be done.

Hurts just the same.

Well, I'm sure you're also aware how tricky it is to get a look at your own medical notes. Or how careful doctors always are not to share your personal information with anyone. Or how many checks are in place to guarantee our data is secure.

Now, it comes to light (FOI request) that once your ESA50 form speeds on it's way to the day of reckoning, it will be opened first in a royal mail sorting office, bundled into relevant piles and only then sent on to the correct department.

Yep, Fred the postman, spotty young Fred, 19 (interests : arse jokes and medieval platform games) gets to open your form, the form you agonised over, blushed as you wrote, perhaps cried tears over, smudging the words.

Perhaps he is a responsible young man who simply opens your private, medical evidence, looks at the address and bundles up the papers.

Or perhaps, he is a little thoughtless. Perhaps he shouts to Pete over the way and they guffaw at your bowel habits or mock your spasticity. Either way, surely the point is that no-one should see these forms but the person who wrote them and the decision maker who will consider them?

There is nothing on the form to say this happens, no disclaimer warning you. If it is legal (which I find incredibly hard to believe) then surely it is not moral? Surely it breaks every code that medical professionals try to follow as they safeguard our intimate medical secrets?

I imagine ministers will tell us that it is "standard procedure" that no-one reads the details. Is that the point?

If this is the line they take, then perhaps they would consider writing a 1000 word account of the most embarrassing or traumatic event of their entire lives and allowing me to pass them round my local pub? No-one will read them, honest, we'll just pas them round and leave them in a pile at the end.

No? Thought not.


  1. It must contravene the data protection act and it might be worth while in seeing what the office of the information commissioner has to say about it as it is a gross violation over the handling of personal data. It might be worthwhile filing a complaint and talking to legal people over this

  2. I feel like I've been punched reading this. I encourage people to open up to me in my work as a benefits advisor and I had no idea that they were then being violated in this way. It makes me unprofessional even though I'm not the problem...

    And personally this scares the hell out of me. I have physical problems, but it's mainly my mental health ones stopping me working right now. Mental health problems directly cause by being raped.

    Rapes I have had to declare on my forms, along with my address, telephone number and the information that I live alone. I already feel desperately frightened of life and vulnerable as hell. This makes me feel even worse. What can we do to stop it?

  3. This is horrifying, I'm about to send off my ESA50. We're being treated like cattle.

  4. Are we supposed to belive that they have so little time at the DWP that they can not open an envelope? That takes what 5 seconds? Do they not have anyone at DWP who can do that? Surely the post office are not doing it for free anyone?
    How can we have faith that someone is reading and taking the form seriously if they cant spend the time even opening each envelope? Cant imagine anyother department like tax office or DVLA letting anyone read information outside their department, surely our confidential information is just as important and up for abuse.

  5. I'm in the middle of filling mine out too. Just when I thought I couldn't be any more pissed off today.

  6. Stop whoa yeh wait a minute mr postman,
    can you tell me whats up with him at number 3
    postman yep sure can he has blah blah blah
    but he dont look sick to me

  7. i will tell u now the WRB will be passed and no one gives a sxxt, i mean no one at all.

  8. Ok. Now I know why mine got lost.

    Unable to handwrite, no online version at the time, not enough care hours to get someone to copy it out for me, I was told I could send in a printed version in word.

    The next thing I knew I was receiving a P45 and my benefits were stopped.

    I expect "Fred" didn't recognise it as an ESA50 and it never got put in the right pile.

    To this day the DWP owes me a week's worth of benefits and astonishingly for 5 days this year I was fit for work in the middle of 2 years in the support group!!!

    I'm still wondering whether to frame the letter telling me I'm fit for work and to hang it in my lounge...

  9. Actually, regardless of the ethics of it, have these people been cleared to see my name, address, telephone number and national insurance number AND to know that I am disabled and in receipt of benefits?

    I have been the victim of identity theft in the past.
    I was advised by police to shred any item with my name and address on it.
    I should shred anything with my national insurance number on it.
    I should avoid letting people know where I live as I am "vulnerable".

    But the people seeing these forms have been vetted... right?

    1. Hi
      Sorry to be the bearer of bad news but no they have not, the only thing that the PO frown on is theft of mail or parcels but theft of personal details..... well it doesn't matter :-(

  10. I kind of feel guilty that so many of you feel so abused by this. We agonised long and hard before writing this post and made triple sure of our facts, FOIs, etc before posting it.

    The thing is, whatever nasties we find, we have to challenge them, because not knowing about this stuff doesn't make it right.

    Please all remember, that it's hugely unlikely that "Fred" has the time OR inclination to read any of this stuff. It's not your local postie, it's a handling centre miles away.

    The point is the principle and if it isn't acceptable in a hospital, then it isn't acceptable with ESA50s

    1. Hi Sue and everyone else.

      I am wondering if games are been played on return post as well. First of all I am disgusted this private data is been handled by royal mail en route, 2nd I think it should be going to the DWP and not ATOS, does the decision maker even get to see the ESA50 now? 3rd this is a prime target of identity theft, all key details are on those forms. I filled a form in during dec, then heard nothing for 2 months and was then told I am been kicked of my benefit for not attending an assessment, I didnt recieve any letters telling me to go, in addition the letter I did get was already opened and not delivered by a postman as it came a different time of day. I am also now discovering there is no way for me to ring the decision maker or email, it "has to be posted" even tho I dont trust royal mail, I was even then told my letter would be delayed by 5 days at a sorting office, I argued why does it need to be sorted when it can be addressed directly to the right department, and the lady wouldnt give me an aswer she just said due to high volumes of mail, as I have worked for many large companies before I know her answer was rubbish as the solution to large volumes of email is simply to have it addressed to different departments. I will look for the source of your info on this page if you provided it and will contact my MP on this today. I currently have 3 weeks until my income is cutoff and have to hope my letter gets to the right person in that time.

      So its not just the claim forms, I suspect its also 'any' written correspendence as well as the appeal forms.

  11. Can I ask how and where you found out this information? The reason I ask is because we would need to name our sources when making a complaint otherwise it will just be dismissed.
    This would certainly explain why so many forms get lost. It is indeed a gross violation of privacy.

  12. It's an FOI request (two actually) but I'm having trouble linking to them. I'll try again, hang on

  13. I am horrified by this. It is bad enough agreeing to allow private companies access to medical information, but this...It HAS to contravene the Data Protection Act, surely? Can something be done?

  14. From my point of view it’s even worse than what you have discovered.
    Why does the DWP or even a so called “decision maker” within whose medical qualifications (if any – what are their qualifications anyway?) and details are unknown need any personal medical information at all? Why not just conformation directly from your GP or other medical specialist? The DWP should just be a payment centre nothing more.

  15. I got home last Friday from having work done in my house...the ceiling is finally safe...I stayed at mums a bit longer than I thought I would after ending up in hospital for a night....was nice to be fed while not able to self care for a change. A few hours later settling in I read my post, there was the ESA50 in a white envelope I would have avoided opening brown ones that day...I guess I was given a bit of a break 7 months after tribunal win, 16 months after the last assessment farce, 19 months after the last one....

  16. Haven't had to fill in a form recently (thank God(dess)) but from what I recall I had to give them all my bank details so they could pay me (if they decided to). Might the banks be interested in this breach of security? Just a thought...

    Do think this is worrying stuff, but thank you for bringing it to our attention. I believe it's always better to know otherwise you're just wandering around in an optimistic fog of unknowing.

    Thank you so much Sue for all you and your friends are doing to help us spoonies and disabled people. My very best wishes to you from Liverpool

  17. Can I just put my thoughts in? Having had to fill out an ESA50 or two myself, I would like to put another view to this blog, perhaps allaying so more fears in the process.
    I worked for HMRC not DWP but it's the same process, I sometimes worked in the Post Room (Civil Servants open your mail, not a 19yr old postie) & was only allowed to because I was an officer & had dealt with many forms over the years. We used to get 1000's of letters per day, not all the same form, not to all the same dept (I'm guessing this is the same at DWP) so opening the letter is crucial to ensure it goes swiftly to the correct dept. Not all ESA50's will come in an envelope marked so, conversely not all envelopes marked ESA50 will contain one.
    A letter would only be read by postroom staff if it was unclear as to what it was, i.e. if it was a word document instead of the official form, trust me we were going full pelt to offload the post to the correct dept although mistakes would occur with some forms and they would end up in the wrong dept. Having known DWP staff, this process would seem the same in either office. I think you've read into the opening of the mail in a different dept & jumped to some conclusions, least of all as the Civil Service has been on an policy of offloading staff rather than taking them on since 2004, them employing a 19 year would mean they had taken him on when he was 12!
    P.s I no longer work for HMRC, being one of the offloaded.
    P.p.s. I was more concerned that a nurse, who could show me no qualifications when asked, could overrule the judgement of a senior Trauma & Orthopaedics Consultant and declare me fit for work.

  18. Wembley MSC
    Olympic House
    3 Olympic Way
    HA9 0DL

    The Royal Mail website stated that the details of the redirection were confidential, so it did not provide where the post was being redirected to. However on telephoning Royal Mail they stated that the redirection was to the Royal Mail 'South London Mail Centre Mail Opening Unit'. They said that the Royal Mail has a contract to open the post from the above address; to sort the opened mail; and then to distribute the contents, presumably to ATOS etc. They said that the company with the redirection did not have the capacity to sort their own post and Royal Mail were doing it for them. And they said that all post was sorted 'in a secure environment'.

    The Royal Mail also said that the post that is being redirected to this Royal Mail 'mail opening unit' is being sent in bulk and that any post that requires a signature such as special delivery etc, is therefore not being signed for. It is obvious that there is no one from ATOS or the DWP to sign for the post, and that the 'mail opening unit' are not doing so.

    Does the fact that mail is being opened but not signed for make RM in breach of contract in the case of Recorded ot Special Delivery items?

    Someone from the google group put in a FOI request -

    Dear Royal Mail Group Limited,
    Request under Freedom of Information Act 2000.

    Please supply copies of any Rules and/or Regulations governing the opening of Mail or Letters.

    Please supply references to all/any applicable Laws or Statues that would allow opening of Mail or Letters.

    In particular, please provide specific references and/or details of all Rules, Regulations or Laws governing the opening, redirection or handling of sensitive items of Mail or Letters, eg those with specific customer data such as medical or financial details.

  19. Royal Mail Group is required to adhere to the following legislation when dealing with mail;
    Postal Services Act 2000, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the
    Interception Communications Act. These Acts are accessible to the public and are
    therefore exempt from disclosure under section 21 – information accessible to the
    applicant by other means.

    annotation (1 September 2011)
    Although they provide a list of legislation and statutes etc it is not very easy to see how various parts of those laws listed would apply in the case of,say, the Royal Mail opening a letter containing sensitive medical information about an individual. Who would be entitled to see it for instance?

    And another one, more recent -


    Answer - turns out it is DWP who are responsible for this -

    The contract for opening mail is managed by DWP and not Atos Healthcare. Mail to Atos Healthcare is opened as part of the DWP's contract with the Royal Mail post opening centres. This is because the Atos Healthcare Medical Service Centres are located within the Disability Benefit Centres.

    Royal Mail pages about opening service -



    I have looked at the ESA50 and as far as I can there is nothing that says I give consent to any company to open or look at the contents of my form or any enclosures that may be with it.

  20. t just says -
    > I declare that the information I have given on this questionnaire is correct and complete as far as I know and believe. I understand that if I knowingly give information that is incorrect or incomplete, I may be liable to prosecution or other action. I understand that I must promptly tell the office that pays my benefit of anything that may affect my entitlement to, or the amount of, that benefit. I agree that
    – the Department for Work and Pensions
    – any health care professional advising the Department
    – any organisation with which the Department has a contract for the provision of medical services
    may ask any of the people or organisations mentioned on this questionnaire for any information which is needed to deal with – this claim for benefit
    – any request for this claim to be looked at again and that the information may be given to that health care professional or organisation or to the Department or any other government body as permitted by law. Is Royal Mail a government body?
    I also understand that the Department may use the information which it has
    now or may get in the future to decide whether I am entitled to
    – the benefit I am claiming
    – any other benefit I have claimed
    – any other benefit I may claim in the future.
    I agree to my doctor or any doctor treating me, being informed about the Secretary of State's determination on
    – limited capability for work
    – limited capability for workrelated activity, or
    – both.
    You must sign this questionnaire yourself if you can, even if someone else has filled it in for you.

    The information we collect about you and how we use it depends mainly on the reason for your business with us. But we may use it for any of the Department’s purposes, which include social security benefits and allowances, child support, employment and training, private pensions policy, and retirement planning.

  21. This is disgusting and a total lack of respect and shows total contempt by both the RM and the company acting with ATOS!

    Everyone should post this to their MP and to their local and national media - I intend to roght now!

    Evil sickening behaviour!

  22. Stevo, Sue is saying posts are opened by Royal Mail, *not* a Post Room in DWP. Totally different kettle of fish. DWP postroom is understandable for mail to reach right department. Or is that outsourced to Royal Mail? If so I think that is wrong.

  23. I presume this applies to everyone, no matter what part of the country you are in. Another point here is the cost of sending a recorded delivery or special delivery from back!

    Today I paid £5.90 to send the completed form (not mine)to a Merseyside office address. As Sue has said there is no one there to sign for it, and therefore I am owed a refund of cost!

    Suggest all of you in a similar position put in a complaint to Royal Mail here: http://www2.royalmail.com/customer-service/personal-customers

  24. what about bank details!!!

  25. Exactly.... £5.90 a lot of money when you'r living on peanuts. And it also explains why some people are having their benefit stopped because they didn't get their claim form in on time - even though they sent it on time... it's obviuosly been delayed by being sent to the opening unit before it goes to Atos and/or DWP.

  26. Do you have to put bank details on your ESA50 form?

  27. I'm so angry I can't write anything yet!!!

  28. Stevo - Thanks for that it's good to know from someone who was involved in the process.

    I simply think that if I send private, personal medical details to a particular address, only those people should open it.

  29. Exactly Sue.

    The form asks for information about your medication; your treatments; your mental stat;, your Carer's names, adresses and phone numbers; all your hospital visits and what they were for; if you have problems with drugs or alcohol; difficulties you have with communication; problems with controlling your bladder and bowel; whether you have fits or blackouts; whether you have mental illness, blackouts or brain injury; whether you can look after yourself at basic levels - eating, cooking etc; whether you suffer from anxiety/panic attacks or whether you have behavioural problems etc.

    It is bad enough to have to divulge this highly sensitive and intimate information to a stranger. BUT is this the kind of information anybody would want to be opened by anyone other than the company or department which is supposed to dealing with your claim? I think not!!

    Are the Carers, physios etc who may be looking after you, happy that their names and addresses are there for anyone to see?

    And, importantly -

    Why do they not put anything on the form to tell us that this is what will happen? Surely THAT is against the rules?

    Whether 'illegal' or not, it is morally and ethically WRONG. It is frightening and humiliating and degrading.

    Yet another treatment of the sick and disabled as second class citizens. I am disgusted by this.

  30. @Sue I agree with you but daring to claim anything is a de facto surrender of any right to privacy :(

  31. I think we should contact the information commissioner's office

  32. I've sent a link of this post to my MP, Julian Huppert. Maybe if we all do that one of them might be arsed to read it ......

  33. Well you know my views on this but i can tell you your forms are known by everyone including the council and all information is widely centralised on their computers including your bank details
    Now i know why my personal details both on line and off have been hacked so many times over the years
    The bottom line is that nothing is private whatsoever and is shared at will with all concerned by the DWP
    Rupert Murdoch was not the only hacker

  34. An email on this issue with a link to this blog has been sent to my MP Angela Eagle.

    By the way, bank details aree not required on the form at all.

  35. Worst thing I have just thought of - wouldn't put it past the likes of that evil bastard gutter rag called the Mail to be snooping through such info!

  36. I will now write to my MP but I will also write to the media, I do believe this does break the data act, as I also send detailed reports from my doctor.

    I will let you know the response I get.

  37. jackie shearwood12 October 2011 at 00:13

    absalutly gobsmacked!

  38. jackie, ABSALUTLY GOBSMACKED,Discusting

  39. I don't feel entitled to call myself a human being any more

  40. exactly why i go to the jobcentre and demand they fax my forms and then send copy internal as well and not through the post office - no end of mail has been stolen, lost and opened at the wolverhampton sorting office by agency staff - there have been no end of agency workers done for freud and stealing .

  41. As a student in the 1970s, I used to work in a local office for what was then the Department for Health and Social Security. One of my tasks was do a stint in the post room every morning. The volume of post was so vast that it was opened by machine and then sorted by people. But at least everybody working in that room had signed the Official Secrets Act.

  42. It seems the people working in the Post office are all vetted and have all signed the secrets act all are highly vetted, it also seems this has been going on for years, the same letter and document opening service, will open the letters going to the old Labour leader Tony Blair, sort them into piles before deciding whether it was important enough to be given to the leader, not sure about Cameron.

    So it seems it's all safe and sound. I bloody hope.

  43. I think this post is really moving in that it describes on a very practical level the emotions that you go through when you fill in this form.

    The reality is, though, that wherever these forms are opened, it's likely not to be by medically trained members of staff. Even if they went directly to the DWP. My worry is things getting lost or mixed up. I've come across so many occasions when Government departments have lost enclosures - and if you have no money to buy food for your baby whose birth certificate the Tax Credits Office have lost for the third time, that's no joke. I suppose though, that when mail has to move, wherever that is, to another building or to another floor in the same building, there's always the risk of mix up.

    I can only answer for myself and my pretty historic experience of opening sensitive post within a Government department is that simply there was no time to read anything even if people wanted to, which we didn't.

    I know that this is worrying you and I can understand why - but I hope you can feel a bit reassured. The Royal Mail also has a duty of confidentiality and to make sure that things get to the right place and that's laid down in law. I'd probably be more bothered if it wasn't them doing the opening. I'd like to know a bit more about the tendering process for the contract, though.

  44. Fellow sub humans is it not time we formed our own National Union for the sick and disabled? You may think it would be powerless however…think about it…united we stand divided we fall. We see daily what happens to those who are weak and vulnerable and how they get exploited and abused and treated with utter contempt.
    It could having the block voting power of millions decide the outcome of elections and have a much stronger influence on policy
    It could support approved sick and disabled friendly companies, Banks, Law firms, supermarkets, hotels and holiday agency’s co-ops etc.
    It could supply useful advice and support to members on a whole range of things.
    It would have much more power and representation to protect our human rights both here and in the EU
    The cost of membership of the proposed SDNU (Sick and Disabled National Union) would be a lot less than you think! I estimate about £15 - £25 annual membership fees.

  45. Now I am extremely worried as I sent completed forms via next day special delivery so that they would arrive on time...what was the point? I give up...I'm tired of fighting.

  46. My daughter's form includes facts such as she was gang raped, the result of which has left her unable to work due to physical and mental health issues.

    If she saw this posting, she would be terrified of the info being used by wrong people.

    She is terrified enough of the possibility of losing her home and of the cold and callous interview she will have to face for the 4th time!

    I am filled with anger and hatred of a country that treats its vulnerable people in this way!

    I hope Cameron and co rot in hell!

  47. I think it's about time for the sick and disabled along with the elderly got together in some sort of union in which we decided on who best to run this country
    That's around 15 million votes which is more then enough to secure a government

    In fact it's about time that a new breed of government come about with a new name led by someone like myself but who was fit to run this country

    Yes it seams a dream but you only need someone with a fighting spirit and some money to get it up and running for it to come about

    Yes their are around 15 million in this country looking for a better quality of life based on some solid values of a time gone by i know what they are and am sure everyone here does it's just a pity the prime minister doesn't

  48. The poster of this idea: SDNU (Sick and Disabled National Union)should write to the TUC regarding this idea. I am unsure it could be called a Union in the true sense, but nevertheless, it could be a supported section of a Trade Union. It could stand on it's own of course, but would be a pressure group rather than a Union.

    I would also speak directly with people such as the Disability Alliance and those such as @bendygirl and @suey2y (author of this blog)amongst others.

    It's a damn good idea and as a political movement would scare the shit out of all parties!

  49. On my post above i left out the name that this new party could be called and that's THE SOCIAL JUSTICE PARTY
    I like that name as it's a constant reminder of the true great strengths that this country once had and with the right people in place and those as advisers would make this country a truly great place to be

    It's not always about money in life it's just the little things like honesty and integrity and showing leadership and fairness putting others first before oneself as a leader very simple if you ask me always doing the just and right thing in what comes most natural to most people

    It's just a pity that the political parties at this time don't share my views as there view is each for himself and sod everyone else

  50. This is the text of my email to my MP sent overnight:

    I have just learnt of what may well be a total infringement by the DWP and ATOS of the personal right to privacy, and breaking of the Data Protection Act, not to mention infringement by Royal Mail of the Postal Services Act 2000, Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act 2000 and the Interception Communications Act.

    The issue involved is the process being used by the DWP and ATOS in receiving and processing completed ESA50 forms from disability claimants involved in the government’s review of all those on benefits, and the associated health checks being conducted.

    The information in these forms consisting of 21 pages, is extremely personal and very sensitive and contains a whole range of personal information regarding mental and physical health history, medical records, national insurance and private names, addresses, telephone number and email addresses.

    Following the placing of an FOI request from by a member of the public to Royal Mail Group Ltd, and subsequent telephone calls to Royal Mail, details of the interception, opening and collating of these forms and the forwarding of them on to an unknown address, came to light.

    I am quoting some of the information available in a web blog which can be found here: http://bit.ly/oEEJS4

    This refers to the interception of mail:

    “The contract for opening mail is managed by DWP and not Atos Healthcare. Mail to Atos Healthcare is opened as part of the DWP's contract with the Royal Mail post opening centres. This is because the Atos Healthcare Medical Service Centres are located within the Disability Benefit Centres.”

    Details of the intercept and opening of the mail by Royal Mail, as opposed to an automatic re-direction service:

    “The Royal Mail website stated that the details of the redirection were confidential, so it did not provide where the post was being redirected to. However on telephoning Royal Mail they stated that the redirection was to the Royal Mail 'South London Mail Centre Mail Opening Unit'. They said that the Royal Mail has a contract to open the post from the above address; to sort the opened mail; and then to distribute the contents, presumably to ATOS etc. They said that the company with the redirection did not have the capacity to sort their own post and Royal Mail was doing it for them. And they said that all post was sorted 'in a secure environment'.

    The Royal Mail also said that the post that is being redirected to this Royal Mail 'mail opening unit' is being sent in bulk and that any post that requires a signature such as special delivery etc, is therefore not being signed for. It is obvious that there is no one from ATOS or the DWP to sign for the post, and that the 'mail opening unit' are not doing so.

    Does the fact that mail is being opened but not signed for make RM in breach of contract in the case of Recorded or Special Delivery items?”

    Today, on behalf of my step-daughter, I posted an ESA50 form by special delivery, but had I known beforehand, I would have delivered it to the Bootle address on the return envelope myself.

    It goes without saying that this is an extremely serious situation if all the facts given in the blog are correct, and raises the spectacle of complete contempt and lack of respect for the rights of disabled people and disregard for their dignity and their right to privacy.

    It raises the question of collusion between the state and private companies, in this case DWP and ATOS, in breaking the law at worst, and acting immorally at best.

    Can you please give this matter your urgent attention?

    Yours sincerely

  51. My forms Will go from my address to Birmingham benefits distribution centre (Read ~Royal mail sorting office) where it is opened & handled by what is supposedly a extended job centre plus service. They then send it on to Wolverhampton (but can be doing maybe 7 different benefit teams for different areas)where it is opened again before being passed on to the relevant department.

    At all the points where someone handles it they can read it it - so they'll then have access to all my personal details (date of birth, address etc), bank account details & a great amount of information about my life. Does anyone else see the potential for identity theft? Especially where there is a photocopy of my blue badge included.

  52. Well - I agree

    fourbanks said...
    I think it's about time for the sick and disabled along with the elderly got together in some sort of union in which we decided on who best to run this country
    That's around 15 million votes which is more then enough to secure a government

    In fact it's about time that a new breed of government come about with a new name led by someone like myself but who was fit to run this country


    Maybe we should call it PIP - The Peoples Independance Party!

  53. Maybe we should call it PIP - The Peoples Independance Party!

    Yes i do like that and that would indeed work very well indeed

    To get a new party off the ground is a hell of a goal a bit like mount Everest and more but with the right input and money then it is possible the name is everything and PIP is a darn sight better then conservative or labour

  54. After being sick and disabled and abused I am not looking forward to being sick and disabled and old and abused as well. I see in a MORI poll most people are apparently happy so perhaps is just me.

  55. "Surely it breaks every code that medical professionals try to follow as they safeguard our intimate medical secrets?"

    Indeed it does, and I seriously doubt it's legal (it's sure as hell not ethical), but the DWP, of course, aren't medical professionals, they're civil servants on the whole, nor, all too often, are the staff of their tame Inquisitors, Atos, as we know to our cost.

    The standards of doctor-patient confidentiality that one might reasonably expect from a GP or a consultant don't apply here.

    That there should be an expectation of privacy is certain, but I believe the only way there will be is if this is tested at law - which was doubtless a consideration when the coalition was plotting to trash legal aid.

    So, are there any support groups out there that would like to pool their resources and challenge this in court?


  56. Hello all,
    I've only just come across your blog...I was trying to find out who the hell ATOS was as I have to go for another medical. (I got the last one overturned in court 6 months ago)Now they have sent the same probing form for me to fill in even though my condition is worse now and the court had already sided with me!
    Keep up this great blog, I have sent a link for it to everyone I know who is being treated like a criminal for being unfortunate enough to be ill in this uncaring society.

  57. Dear Sue,

    It is not just ATOS who cannot cope with the workload and that deadlines are being missed and people are having benefit removed because of this delay.

    If people manage to get as far as tribunal stage, they face another risk caused by system overload.

    I received the medical notes supporting another claimant's tribunal case. A simple mistake, but one which has severe implications in terms of breaches of privacy.

    This is happening because the system cannot cope administratively with the load that governmental policy has placed upon it.

    We are in crisis now. What on earth will happen when the WRB goes through and the various further indignities we will be subjected to, under the presumption of guilt involved in this privatisation process.

    G4S, the private prisons giant, is currently trialling its role in the Grand Inquisition of the government-designated "scroungers".

    The same political expediency which originally placed people on to IB to massage various governments' employment figures.

  58. anyone responding to my post above, please call me Beryl

  59. I told a friend I had added the point above and he added to my comment the following:

    Like Peter Gabriel said in his song about Steve Biko:-

    You can blow out a candle
    But you can't blow out a fire
    Once the flames begin to catch
    The wind will blow it higher

  60. "It seems the people working in the Post office are all vetted and have all signed the secrets act all are highly vetted"

    I doubt it, I was cleared to Secret level for my work in the defence industry (I was a flight controls engineer working on Eurofighter development, so reasonably sensitive stuff) and all that the basic MoD security check involves is filling in a form to say where you live, where you were born and that you don't know any foreign agents and providing your birth certificate to prove you are probably who you say you are. I seriously doubt the Post Office procedures are even that extensive. Signing the Official Secrets Act is just one more thing you do on your first and last day, and doesn't make an ounce of difference as to whether you pass the forms on without looking, or scan them for every prurient detail.

    I'm a week late in seeing this, but like other people, my first reaction was to feel like I'd been punched. And that was while thinking that there wasn't anything particularly sensitive on mine. On reflection there's stuff on it I don't even like discussing with my consultant. I plan on ringing the Info Commissioner's help line tomorrow to see if this is, or potentially is, a breach of the Data Protection Act, and even if it isn't I'm definitely writing to my MP about this.

  61. *snigger" does it really say "do you know any agents?" just like that?

    Who would write yes!!

    The DWP have been surprisingly quiet on this. A journalist has been waiting for a statement, but they haven't come back yet, not even to say "no comment" which is unusual.

  62. It's something like 'Are you in contact with any members of a subversive organisation?' I did actually know someone who worked for SWAPO, but fortunately by the time I came to fill the form in they were a friendly government rather than a 'subversive organisation'. But real MoD 'basic check' clearance really is that cursory, so god knows what the PO's is like.

    Do you know if anyone has been in touch with the Information Commissioner about this? There definitely seem to be questions over the Data Protection Act that need answering. I'll give them a go if no one else has, but I need to put that off until tomorrow while I go harass Amazon.

    I did think about putting something up at WTB with my personal thoughts about this - like others have said, it does feel like a punch in the stomach, and that just gets worse as you think about all of the info that is in there, but if you've a journo waiting on the answer it might be more effective to hold that back and tie it to any press coverage.

  63. I had my pre esa50 phonecall today and I asked about this. The person I spoke to didn't know but said someone would call me in 3 hrs. To start with this person categorically denied that po staff could open and later said if they did they wouldn't have time to read them. I was properly robbed off.

  64. This is going to sound heartless, but ...

    A form from someone is (say) Birmingham gets directed to somewhere in South London where it is opened by a junior employee of the Royal Mail. Let's presume that the employee has no more vetting than the usual RM procedure (whatever that is).

    The form has lots of confidential medical information in it. Should that information be shown to this member of staff? No.

    BUT. That same member of staff is probably under pressure to sort x number of forms in every hour, and probably doesn't have the time to read the information. If he (or she) did, in their first few days, stop to gawp at the accounts of the bowel movements of a perfect stranger, then it will not be long before they stopped bothering because - embarrassing as it is to us (and yes, I do have problems myself) - after the first few times it will be boring.

    This imaginary flunkie is going to have not only to open these forms, and see where they are addressed to, but go through pages and pages of stuff describing how difficult is to eat when your hands are crippled with arthritis. How many forms contain material that's titillating enough to be worth finding? How many descriptions of peeing oneself would anyone want to read?

    Seriously, in this day and age what would happen if a supervisor found someone who should be sorting 5 forms a minute spending 10 minutes going through every form (and there will be hundreds of them) in the hope of finding the word "rape" somewhere?

    The other thing to think about is this. Yes, the detail is embarrassing and distressing to write down (I've been doing it for decades now!). But mostly, it's NOT the sort of stuff people want to know about a perfect stranger. Suppose I went down the pub, got a drink, sat down next to a bloke in the corner, struck up a conversation and tried to describe my bowel movements in details. Or try telling the spotty girl who's agonising about her boyfriend how much help you need to get washed and dressed.

    Please note that I am not defending what seems to me to be an entirely unethical handling of these forms. In fact I intend to write another post as soon as I have the energy on that issue.

    What I am trying to say, is that people should not be too terrified and embarrassed about this deplorable breach of security and privacy. It's thousands to one against anyone having the time or the interest to read your medical data.

  65. I've just tried to tell everyone not to get too upset about the prospect of someone finding their personal medical detail when these forms are sorted.

    I'm now going to do the opposite.

    I am concerned that we may be sending off forms on recorded delivery to a system that will never actually record that delivery. The DWP may well know that and simply disregard any claim by us that the thing must have reached them. Perhaps proof of posting is all that we expect.

    An enquiry needs making to RM as to what happens to "recorded delivery" mail, when it is switched from the addressee to a mass depot and then opened by RM, without any "recording" at all. Perhaps another FoI request is called for.

    There is one area where we should be even more concerned. I think that these forms contain your name, address, telephone number, date of birth, national insurance number and bank details - together, probably with details which clearly indicate what level of benefit you are currently receiving. Everything, bar your mother's maiden name, that anyone needs for identity theft.

    This information is always in the same place, and is easy to locate and relatively quick to copy. It's not intrinsically interesting, but it is worth money. If someone is equipped with a pen scanner, or hidden camera, it would be easy to get this data and then flog it.

    It is, of course, no more insecure than the same detail when it's processed in an Indian sorting centre by your bank, but that's not really the point.

    RM should be asked if every employee in the centre that opens this mail has been through a CRB check, and if proper procedures are in place to protect the handling of confidential data. s someone else has pointed out, this may be an issue to raise under the Data Protection Act.

  66. hi guys if going to do anything we all need to speak to our mps and soilicitors, and if any one wants to start a petition about this we need to get in touch with a daily paper ,that will print something in a daily newspaper ,and a petition to see how qualified the ATOS Doctors are .if we are going to do anyting we need to sort a spoxperson or persons to start ball rolling.sorr aboet speling .jackie

  67. Hi
    Ive just found this site and i am discusted as it reflects my own experience.My ESA has been stopped as ATOS got my form late and a decision maker has decided i have not shown good reason for the delay. So its 21st November and my ESA was stopped on October 12th. I also received a P45 with nothing else in the envelope. I have been living on my DLA only. I also sent my forms by recorded delivery but ATOS say they got my form 4 days after it was posted in the Southwest.

  68. Hi Jackie
    It's all in hand i think sue who operates and runs this blog has it all in hand with access to the press as for legal issues that with regret is not an option as when i spoke to the law society they couldn't recommend anyone with the expertise that was needed to bring about a class action

    We are all individuals with health issues with no one having like for like so therefore it would be very difficult for legal representation as a group

    Plus as the law society told me without the expertise from a lawyer you would just fall at the first hurdle and one must be weary of any lawyer who thinks he knows anything as they dont so we as a group are stuck

    We are not at this time even getting justice for the families of those that have committed suicide with many more to follow and the government know this

    Where it will all end up is anyone's guess but you can be sure it will be brutal for many i can vouch for that but 30 years on I'm still around only god knows how

    The press that sue talks to now and then are our only hope but even they haven't a clue on what to do or who's side to take

    Even the bishops 2 years on have only just come out of the woodwork to speak most shameful some will say better late then never

    If i had been fit i would have single handedly fought the government head on but even then i would need supporting

    Even if were a mp it would still be like climbing a mountain as the public and press are not in our faver

    My own daughter who is studding international politics tells me that their are some in her class who feel that it's right to abuse the sick and disabled to get them to snap out of their low self esteem and get a job

    What can you say my daughter thinks that type of remark from her fellow peers is outrageous but she herself is struggling to come up with a better way forward and it's the majority that win at the end of the day

    It for me is a very dark day that i could never ever have foreseen that parents would breed the likes of David Cameron and co had i then i would have become an mp instead of going into the bank of England in 1974 I would been able to head the likes of him off from ever becoming a mp in the first place

    As a conservative i would have even been able to prevent mrs thatcher from becoming leader

    When i met her in 1974 she was pretty inconspicuous very mild to say the least but who would have thought just 5 years latter she would be the prime minister no one could have seen that in 1974 but that was the start of the slippery slope and we are still on it

  69. I did not understand my ESA 50 form, it was to me illogically written and I had to get a schizophrenic friend to interpret it for me, he being very good at form filling. My problem, Aspergers, my logic is clearly not everyone elses,but I filled in the form in good faith and actually said on the form that I wanted to work and was engaed with working links to try and start my own business( which later fell through due to my aspie misunderstanding with them saying I was not fit to work, never mind start my own business !)

    Problems came when I could not find the return envelope, so I searched on line for an address, none could be found, so I just sent it to the DWP. ,ater came a snotty phone call from someone from Atos who wanted me to confirm my name, which I was not prepared to do because they would not reveal who they were, so they sent me a letter telling me to turn up in less than two weeks for an assessment.

    I turned up at the assessment well before time, my audio recorder activated following advice and got told they did not want to see me and had I not been told, so two hours of traveling and money spent I could ill afford and it was a waste of time, all that worry for nothing.

    So weeks later I get a letter stating I am to go on ESA, contribution based ESA and I am to be put in a work related activity group with a personal advisor who will actually help, whether this is the case remains to be seen, I do not have my hopes up on this.

    As to employment, I am sick of the benefits lifestyle, I am sick of being hated by all and mental illness or not, I want to work, as to whether anyone will employ me is another matter, yet I expect to be penalised for just being me, my history is that, and why I have chronic depression.

    I was once very patriotic, I believed in this country, now, I do not, it is just where I was born and live, the Great, has long gone, for everything I was brought up to believe in simply does not exist.

  70. [QUOTE]I was once very patriotic, I believed in this country, now, I do not, it is just where I was born and live, the Great, has long gone, for everything I was brought up to believe in simply does not exist.[/QUOTE]

    That is exactly how i feel and just wish that i could have had better health and left the country and for anyone reading this and i have said this many times before if you can get out with your health better then mine you should go
    The worst thing in my life i ever did was stay after my retirement from the bank of england and boy have i suffered since

  71. I have just received my ESA50 form,firstly came the warning letter followed by the phonecall,which i must say was interesting,the woman i spoke to told me she was going to end the call 3 times because i was asking question about Atos,i asked her if she slept well in light of the suffering Atos were causing,1 st "i'm ending the call"...no wait i said,do you know how many people have committed suicide....2nd "im ending the call....Please don't says i as i dont understand what this is all about....so she begins to explain......so i ask her if she likes tormenting vunerable people....it's an offence to discriminate against a disabled person......3rd "i'm ending the call"....and she did.

    I have untill the 10th jan to return my form,after reading this i would rather die than allow someone at royal mail to read it.

    I'm not returning it,i did'nt sell my sole when i became sick did i?.

    I did'nt reclaim my DLA when it ran out in october as i know Atos are taking control of that too in the future.

    So i'm already suffering,i'm just thankful my tax paying hard working husband does'nt hate the benefit cheat he's married to......Yet

  72. I am sorry to hear that it is not thought feasible to find a suitably informed lawyer to take on a group action over this apparent infringement of data protection and invasion of privacy of medical information. Does anyone know of someone who has or may be in a position of instructing a solicitor individually?

  73. marshtown
    If you managed to find a solicitor to help you it would be extremely expensive
    The law society have told me there is no one qualified in this area of the DWP so you would have to go down the human rights route but as i say at great expense

  74. Hi,everybody,i just recently sent in a ESA50 form,they gave me a bogus address on the form to send it to,turns out it is a post office sorting office in the middle of no where,Form has been lost by them and they have stopped my ESA.THEY OWE ME TWO WEEKS MONEY.apparently i am fit for work because they have misplaced my form in the post.My advice to every body is get off benefits your entitled too the system is corrupt,ive had a gutts full,i am not proud to be british,and they could not care if i had any money or not,merry christmas.

  75. http://www.publicinterestlawyers.co.uk/
    Could they help us as a group or individual?

  76. only a handfull of Royal Mail staff are allowed to "intercept the queen's mail" and only under supervision and always if the contents of said mail / parcel was deemed to be suspicious. All your mail gets x-rayed if it leaves for carriage by air. it will only be opened as a last resort. If it's really dodgy looking then the police will come in and have a look. Claims that your average OPG royal mail worker reads your forms is highly dubious to say the least. They do not have the authority. Only management can do this - designated ML(number to designate their managerial grade)-upwards. Depending on it's destination, that mail will go to a specific handling area - to be sorted and delivered en masse to whichever building. I do not work for Royal Mail but know their procedures. I think the wording of that FOI response may be a tad vague- perhaps meaning that the bags are opened and not the mail itself.

    1. I sent my appeal regiistered delivery to jobcentre plus leodis way leeds and here is what i got when i tracked and traced it. You have to read it from bottom up but according to this it was not delivered to job centre plus leodis way leeds

      08/06/12 04:37 DELIVERED08/06/12 LEEDS MAIL CENTRE
      08/06/12 04:30 COLLECTED LEEDS MAIL CENTRE
      08/06/12 04:05 ON DELIVERY LEEDS MAIL CENTRE
      07/06/12 17:45 COLLECTED LEEDS MAIL CENTRE
      07/06/12 13:10 ACCEPTED AT POL 14 Main Street LS25 1EY

  77. this pure hoshposh! no one in RoyalMAil looks at the returned form,it is sent to the ATOS healthcare centre dealing with the claim. It will be sorted through their internal mail system to reach whatever department is to take assessing responsibility.
    This blog oes notjhingion helping sortthis mess out,it only adds to the fear, stopyour tittle tattling and get on with getting on!

  78. well seeing anonymous on Jan 12 05;59AM is just that anonymous? why simple with idiots like you out there is it any wonder real disabled peopld in this country are so badly treated with lie after lie after miscarraige of normal working practices & laws to name but a few of the indignities we collectively suffer daily, let alone our retrospective deseases im happy to swop your clearly miserable existance anytime but be warned take any genuinely disabled persons life and its 100 times as miserable, hard and pointless as your own...

    FYGI - Sue the author of the DOABS blog has done, risked and collectively scored more for ALL

    disabled DWP claimants in this country than anyone MP, Media, included its a discrace let alone
    barbark what they (Gov) are allowing to happen to us.

    I truly hope that one day these policy making heartless people find themselves in our shoes one day of course one day after they have destroyed what little help there is left for us in anycase as
    only then will they have any way of truly knowing what its like! (that goes for you mr/mrs anon also)

    More power to Sue and those like her without which we would have no voice at all....

    (signed anon as dont have log in details handy, name address details provided upon request)

  79. Beware of government spys and stooges on disability forums some of the reassurring comments appear to be spin and propaganda.
    I put very little in the way of personal indentifiers on for that reason.

    I have just had an esa50 form lost sent ??/1/11 ( fortunately had a copy), esa claim rejected/cancelled from ??/11/12, got the letter today,

    Had an es3 amendment lost form lost in early december , nothing heard just letter saying an amount of money was to be paid to my account ( no detail of claim ending,a deliberate lack of information), only found out by checking up. Fortunately I have dla so can survive, god help us when they kill that with PIP.

    These were lost???? disposed of at the Birmingham centre.

    Very wary they really are out to get us, don't they get sick too.

    Contacting my MP but fairly sure he will follow the party whip into the abyss.

    Loads of stress on Monday trying undo this counterfuge if possible.

  80. Please read the section on my blog about ATOS, it's www.twoflewover.blogspot.com. my e-mail is robin.williams6@virgin.net If I may be of any help please contact me.

  81. Filled in my esa50 in Dec. '11. Just had a P45 from tax office today saying benefits ceased 2 days ago . Contacted benefits office who say that my benefits have been stopped as I did not return said esa50. I have proof of posting and checked online tracking which shows that it was delivered on 4th Jan '12.This was the deadline date. Obviously they have lost the form and all my confidential medical notes that I sent. Is it usual for them not to let you know when they stop your benefits? Any advice?

    1. they are a law of their own so you will need to contact your mp and good luck

  82. Before we even get to the stage where you send the ESA50 back and it's opened by a Royal Mail employee.

    Surely the DWP are in breech of The Data Protection Act by giving ATOS your personal details (name, address and NI number) without your permission?

    As far as I'm concerned, permission should have to be granted for the DWP to give ATOS my personal details!

    And the DWP should not be able to fall back on the fact that you've given them permission before on an IB50.

    It should be rather like a Debit Card Payment. You authorize a payment to be taken, but it dosen't give them carte blanch to take another payment when they feel like it!

  83. please can some one tell me what should I do, I was delayed filling out my form as I suffer from neurological problems I did call DWP and let them know as soon as I did they stopped my claim any idea how I should go about re-instating it.thaks joanne

  84. I have visited your blog for the first time and found it a well organized blog. Keep sharing nice stuff. Solicitors Bootle

  85. Legal? probably not. Moral? Absolutely not! In this time when ANYONE can just photo your document with their phone and steal all of the information they need to apply for things as passports/visa's (and pass them on to fook knows who for fook knows what sort of illegal purpose) the DWP should be taking MORE care, not less!!

  86. Hi. I'm Darren, I don't sign up to any of the LiveJournal etc stuff because of spam.

    I just need to point out to those who believe that the Official Secrets Act protects you: It doesn't.

    The OSA does not cover personal or medical information, which is covered instead by the Data Protection Act.

    It's a minor detail, but it is one you should be aware of when making any complaint.

  87. I spotted an "Opened by Royal Mail" type rubber stamp on my husband's ESA 50 when I was going through it earlier this year in preparation for his Tribunal.

    When I was writing up the errors and lies of his assessment to go to the Tribunal I added some notes at the end that I wished to be placed in with the Tribunal's report to the DWP. One of those notes was that I considered it was wholly inappropriate that forms of such a confidential medical nature be opened in a Royal Mail sorting office.

    All the forms we've ever sent to DWP have been sent by recorded delivery thinking that we would know for certain that if they said it wasn't received we would have evidence it that it was. What worry's me is that if such a claim by DWP were made where would the evidence be that it got any further than the sorting office.

    I also informed our MP and our local CAB adviser that this was going on - neither seemed to be aware of it.

  88. Surely all the mail sent with personal details, addressed to DWP, should BE DELIVERED directly to DWP. I dont understand or see the need for Royal Mail to open it to send it on. Arent they (DWP)capable of opening envelopes themselves? Also if the Royal Mail staff arent cleared or authorised to do so, isnt that ILLEGAL? What the hell is going on. What are they thinking? The sick/disabled benefit situation is getting well out of hand.The government dont like it when THEIR personal details and lives get made public.

  89. 30 years ago when I 1st started to work for the Government [I no longer work for them due to my disability]
    I know that when post arrived at DWP offices unopened never did the post go directly to the addressee. It always went to an internal post room and was then opened, sorted and then forwarded to the appropriate person. Up until my date of leaving that was the procedure.
    The problem I see is that by letting the post be opened in a Royal Post Office or any other courier office their employees are not subject to the Official Secrets Act [OSA] that all Civil Servants are. I think that it is disgusting and immoral but I do not think that it is illegal. I would hope that they would have a group of employees who specialise in the opening of DWP post and who are subject to the OSA just as the rest of those people who will be handling the form once it arrives at DWP.
    I can only speculate that the post is opened before reaching DWP as it is cheaper for Royal Mail/other postal service to do this job as they are already handling that piece of post. You can guarantee that cost and nothing else, is the reason that non-DWP staff are having sight of your application forms before DWP staff.

  90. I read with interest the concerns of people regarding their personal details beeing seen and may be used by persons not entitled.
    You can raise a concern/complaint about data protection at this link; http://www.ico.gov.uk/complaints/data_protection.aspx

    First you should ask the organisation concerned and give it an opportunity to put things right, who will this be? The Royal Mail or DWP (Jobcentre Plus), the contractor is the DWP and the mail is addressed to them so it is their responcibility to protect your data, Lord Freud Minister for Welfare Reform,Responsibilities include Customer Information – data sharing and information security you can write to him at
    Department for Work and Pensions
    Caxton House
    Tothill Street
    SW1H 9DA
    or email ministers@dwp.gsi.gov.uk

    The DWP has a information charter regarding data protection the link is http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/dwp-information-charter.pdf

    Hope this is of some help.

  91. http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/home-news/royal-mail-staff-given-access-to-confidential-medical-details-8118203.html


  93. I thought that was a well known fact. Personally, I don't mind. I'm never going to meet those people, and even if I do I won't know they know, and they are unlikely to know they read about me. I would rather have something I wrote on my form give someone a little laughter in their monotonous dreary day, if it means that they will also be learning how difficult life can be for us.

    As regards morality. I believe it probably is against the DPA. From personal experience though, I know the government think that they are above the DPA!

  94. WOW now i know the probable reason why my sons dla form which i posted off yesterday by royal mail special guarunteed delivery costing me £7 has been redirected to an "unknown address". I cant access any tracking information for my letter at all! not happy.. i had till 26th december hense why i sent it guarunteed next day so it would get there before they all shut for christmas. I like the thought of them seeing personal details such as bank details. If this happens they should write it on the forms so that people get them sent off sooner! I had been waiting for reports from my sons education visitor which held it up.. now i really hope im not going to have to start all over again. Thansk for posting this thread!

  95. Glad to visit your blog, I look forward to more good articles and I think we all like to thank so many good articles, blog to share with us.

  96. Why would Royal Mail need to open it?
    surely only the addressee should open it!