Atos, the French IT company that assesses whether the disabled are fit for work, will get a public warning from the Liberal Democrats after thousands of complaints from people who have undergone computerised tests.
Lib Dem delegates at their Birmingham conference will endorse a call today for the company’s “tick box” system of medical tests to be replaced by something more accurate and less stressful for those who go through it.
The call will add to political pressure on Atos, which has a £100m a year contract with the Department of Work and Pensions that runs until November 2013. Unlike previous years, Lib Dem activists can now put direct pressure on the Government through one of their most experienced MPs, Steve Webb, who is a senior minister in the department.
The system of “work related assessments” which Atos carries out on the Government’s behalf is the subject of an independent, state-funded investigation by Professor Malcolm Harrington. Prof Harrington has said he has been “staggered and shocked” by the fact that since the new system began, in 2008, there have been 400,000 appeals, 40 per cent of which have been successful, at a cost of £50m a year.
An investigation by the Commons Works and Pensions Select Committee, published earlier this year, found that some of Atos’s vulnerable patients had their benefits stopped as a punishment for not turning up to an appointment, when they were either too ill or attend, or there had been an administrative blunder. In one case, someone trying to get through to an Atos call centre by phone had to call 135 times.
A spokesperson for Atos said: “Our central focus as an organisation and as committed healthcare professionals is to meet the highest standards in everything we do.”