AN official investigation has found the process is flawed after the Daily Record revealed how disabled people were made to feel like criminals after wrongly being ruled fit for work.
FITNESS for work testing for thousands of vulnerable sick and disabled people has been condemned as a failure in an official Commons investigation, the Record can reveal.
The damning findings back our exposé of the incompetent handling of the medical assessments by French firm Atos for the Department for Work and Pensions.
We revealed how seriously ill or disabled people were made to feel like criminals after wrongly being ruled fit for work.
Now MPs on the powerful public accounts committee have said the DWP allowed the firm to make millions while ordinary people were condemned to misery and hardship. The report found:
At least four out of 10 claimants were wrongly ruled fit for work.
Atos racked up a £60million bill administrating appeals against rulings.
The DWP failed to challenge Atos’ massive profits or penalise the firm for not making targets.
Atos are paid £110million a year to carry out the tests for the DWP to move people from disability benefits into work.
The firm, first hired by the last Labour government, expect to make £40million from their contract in Scotland and the north of England alone.
But the tests pass thousands of people as fit who are not able to work – and threaten to cut off their benefits.
Atos take a further £60million of public money to administer appeals because so many decisions are contested.
The British Medical Association say the assessments are “not fit for purpose”.
And now, on the basis of evidence from Citizens Advice, Disability UK and the DWP itself, MPs have concluded that the tests are hitting the most vulnerable claimants the hardest. Margaret Hodge MP, who chairs the public accounts committee, said:
“The standardised ‘tick-box’ approach fails to adequately account for rare, variable or mental health conditions and this can lead to greater inaccuracies in decision-making for these particular claimant groups.
“The DWP are getting far too many decisions wrong on claimants’ ability to work. This is at considerable cost to the taxpayer and can create misery and hardship to the claimants themselves.”
Nearly 40 per cent of appeals are upheld – and a third of the successful appeals involve no new evidence.
“The DWP view that appeals against decisions are an inherent part of the process is unduly complacent.
“This poor decision-making is damaging public confidence and generating a lot of criticism of the contractor for assessments, Atos Healthcare – but most of the problems lie firmly within the DWP.”
In their report, due out today, the MPs slam the Government for the misery they have caused thousands of disabled benefits claimants.
“Poor decision-making causes claimants considerable distress. The position appears to be getting worse, with Citizens Advice reporting an 83 per cent increase in people asking for support on appeals in the last year alone.
“The process hits the most vulnerable claimants hardest. The one-size-fits-all approach fails to account adequately for mental health conditions or those which are rare or fluctuating.”
Despite changes, the report concludes that the assessment process is still too inflexible – and is often so stressful for applicants that their health simply gets worse. A key problem identified in the report is that the DWP have given Atos a near monopoly in the supply of medical advice.
“The DWP are too often just accepting what Atos tells them. They seem reluctant to challenge the contractor.
“They have failed to withhold payment for poor performance and rarely checked that they are being correctly charged.
“The DWP also cannot explain how the profits being made by Atos reflect the limited risk that they bear.
“There needs to be a substantial shake-up in how the DWP manage this contract and in their processes for improving the quality of decision-making.”
While claimants have blamed Atos for the tests, the committee said the blame for most of the problems lies firmly within the DWP.
The report says the assessment process is designed to support a fair and objective decision by the DWP about whether a claimant is fit for work – but in far too many cases, the DWP are getting these decisions wrong at considerable cost to both the taxpayer and the claimant.
DWP decisions were overturned in 38 per cent of appeals, casting doubt on the accuracy of their decisions.
MPs found that the DWP do not know the full cost of the decision-making process or the financial effects across government – and without this information, they will not be able to assess value for money.
“We saw no evidence that the DWP were applying sufficient rigour or challenge to Atos given the vulnerability of many of their clients, the size of the contracts and their role as a near monopoly supplier.
“We are concerned that the profitability of the contract may be disproportionate to the limited risks the contractor bears.”
An Atos spokesman said:
“We know this is a difficult process for people and have worked with the DWP to make improvements in how we carry out the work capability assessments so we can provide the decision-makers with the information they need to make the right decision first time.
“If an assessment does not meet the needs of the DWP decision-maker, we will redo it before a benefit decision is made. We do not make decisions on individuals’ entitlement to benefit. This is done by a DWP decision-maker.
“The information from the assessment which we send to the DWP forms only one piece of the evidence the DWP will use when making a decision on benefits
“All complaints to Atos Healthcare are thoroughly investigated and changes are made where necessary. Currently less than one per cent of those who see us make a complaint.
“The DWP also monitor our quality and can send assessments back to us. They do this in less than 0.2 per cent of cases and we redo the report at our own cost.
“Although appeals are widely reported to be the fault of Atos, the National Audit Office warned there were dangers in this assumption. Recent DWP figures suggest Atos reports are a reason for successful appeals in only 0.3 per cent of cases.”