Work Capability Assessment

Is ATOS are getting away with under performance?


Ministers have been urged to overhaul the government’s contract with the private firm Atos Healthcare, which carries out medical assessments for benefits claims, after auditors said the deal did not contain “sufficiently challenging targets”.

Atos has conducted 738,000 medical tests on benefit claimants in the past financial year. However, 40% of people appeal against the decisions – with 38% of those successful.

The National Audit Office criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for not seeking “financial redress” for delays in carrying out tests and noted that the department had only collected 10% of possible penalties triggered by poor performance.

The taxpayer is effectively paying for this service twice – yet the government has failed to claw this money back from Atos,”

The assessments were first piloted in 2008 by the previous Labour government. Last month Professor Malcolm Harrington, who was appointed by the government to review the test, told BBC’s Panorama that the assessment remained flawed and that as a result people who were genuinely unable to work would suffer.
He said:

There are certainly areas where it’s still not working and I am sorry there are people going through a system which I think still needs improvement.”

Despite scepticism from many campaigners over its performance, this month Atos won contracts worth £400m to test whether disabled people should continue receiving benefits.

An Atos Healthcare spokesperson said: “We meet our obligations in delivering a complex and challenging contract. We have also been flexible with the department and implemented all the changes and recommendations from the Harrington report.”

The DWP said Atos was not being allowed to underperform and a review of contractual targets was being carried out. The department has also twice agreed improvement plans with Atos Healthcare when processing times exceeded the target.

Changes have been made to ensure feedback was received from tribunals to understand why decisions were overturned, the DWP said, and in many cases new evidence was presented at appeal that was not available when the assessment was carried out.

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