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28 March 2014 | Will Green
The UK government has announced a settlement has been reached to end its contract with Atos covering the provision of fitness-to-work tests.
Disabilities minister Mike Penning said Atos will receive “not a penny” of compensation for the early termination of the contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which was due to run until August 2015.
In a statement to Parliament Penning said: “I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract. Quite the contrary, I can also confirm that Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the DWP.”
The minister said an OJEU notice would be issued and it was planned to award a new contract “later this year”, with a new provider taking over “by 2015”.
“I believe the most effective way to stabilise and then increase delivery is to bring in one national provider to deliver the work capability assessment, initially using elements of the Atos infrastructure,” said Penning. “In the longer term I am committed to moving to multiple providers to increase competition. My department is committed to learning the lessons from these past failures and ensuring they are reflected in the design and management of future contracts, as well as the department’s own commercial capability.”
Atos announced in February that it was seeking an “early exit” from the contract, following heavy criticism of its performance.
Ursula Morgenstern, Atos chief executive officer for UK and Ireland, said: “We are pleased to have reached an agreement with the government to allow us to exit this contract early and we remain committed to delivering essential services to the UK government as a strategic supplier.”
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said disabled people needed more support to get into work and tests should not be “an exercise in getting people off benefits”.
"I doubt there's a single disabled person who'll be sorry to hear that Atos will no longer be running the fit-for-work tests,” he said. "There is a now a real opportunity for government to review its approach to work capability assessments and ensure that when it appoints a new provider there is a move away from a fundamentally flawed system.”
Kate Green, Labour’s shadow work and pensions minister, said: “People have been badly let down by Atos which is why Labour has repeatedly called on the government to sack them with immediate effect.
“But changing the contract isn’t enough. It’s time for the government to reform fundamentally work capability assessments so that disabled people who can work are given support they need to find a job.”
Atos will continue to deliver the Personal Independence Payment assessments in Scotland, north of England, London and south of England and to deliver work capability assessments on behalf of the Department for Social Development in Northern Ireland.