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23 July 2013 | Adam Leach
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is to move away from having a single supplier providing work capability assessments following concerns about the quality of service being provided by Atos Healthcare.
The decision, announced in Parliament yesterday, will see extra providers brought in to assess whether or not claimants are entitled to claim benefits through ill-health or disability from the summer of 2014. Further, all Atos staff that have failed to meet their performance targets will be audited or have their approval to carry out assessments removed. It has not yet been announced how many new providers will be brought in.
Announcing the move, employment minister Mark Hoban said: “Since 2010 we have made considerable improvements to the system we inherited from the previous government. However, it’s vital we continue to improve the service to claimants, which is why we are introducing new providers to increase capacity.”
A DWP audit of assessments carried out by Atos Healthcare awarded the lowest possible grade to more than a third of those evaluated. The report, which graded the assessments A-C, gave 41 per cent the lowest rating.
A statement from Atos Healthcare, said: “We are sorry when we do not meet our own high standards but can reassure that a ‘C’ grade report does not mean the assessment was wrong and there are checks and balances throughout the system so that the correct decision on benefit is made by the department.”
The performance of Atos Healthcare on the contract has been the subject of sustained criticism over recent years. In November last year, the chief executive of the Citizens Advice Bureau Gillian Guy called for penalties to be enforeced against the company for not meeting performance targets. Dr Paul Litchfield, a senior occupational physician, is currently conducting an independent review of the work capability assessments on behalf of the government.