Atos wins benefit assessment contract
Friday 03 August 2012
Charities seek safeguards for disabled people, as the government awards a new benefit assessment contract to controversial provider
The Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) has awarded the contract to reassess disabled people for the Personal Independence Payment (PIP), worth hundreds of millions of pounds, to two private sector companies, Atos and Capita.
The DWP awarded three contracts in England and Wales, with Atos winning most of the work. The smaller of the three contracts, covering Wales and parts of central England, was won by outsourcing company Capita.
Atos already conducts face-to-face assessments for people accessing Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – the benefit for disabled people out of work – but continues to draw intense criticism due to the high rate of inaccurate decisions, successful appeal rates (40%) and waste of restricted resources. Appeals against ESA decisions cost over £26 million in 2010/11.
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC) – a coalition of charities, including Mencap, representing hundreds of thousands of disabled people – is concerned that many disabled people will be fearful of the new process. DWP plans show that 500,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for support.
The consortium is calling on Atos and Capita to learn lessons from the Work Capability Assessment, used to assess people for ESA since 2008, and sign up to ten pledges that will help alleviate concerns, establish a greater trust in the new system and deliver a process that is as fair as possible under government plans.
PIP is being introduced as the government abolishes Disability Living Allowance, which was introduced from 1992 to help disabled people with essential higher living costs. The change affects working age disabled people (16-64 years of age) from April 2013.
“PIP will be a lifeline for disabled people and it is essential that this difficult process is managed well,” says Hayley Jordan of the MS Society and co-chair of the DBC policy group. “We urge contractors to learn lessons from previous experiences and sign up to our proposed pledges to demonstrate a commitment to making the process as fair as it can be. Failure will result in tragedy and devastate the lives of disabled people."