MP’s have slammed the accuracy and fairness of reports sent to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) by private benefit assessment firms, describing the quality of reports as “shoddy” and “error ridden”.
The private firms Atos and Capita are responsible for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessments, while the company Maximus carry out assessments for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).
The Commons Work and Pensions Committee criticised the accuracy of assessment reports from all three contractors, following claims by claimants and others that reports sent to the DWP often bear little or no resemblance to the actual assessments, or how their medical conditions affect their daily lives.
Despite this, both Atos and Capita have recently seen their contracts extended by a further two years by the DWP.
The cross-party group of MP’s said the three contractors had failed to meet their key targets, and both Capita and Atos are still failing to do so.
“Large sums of money have been paid to contractors despite quality targets having been universally missed”, the Committee said.
“The taxpayer has spent hundreds of millions of pounds more checking and defending DWP decisions based on the contractors’ reports – not least in externalised costs in the Tribunal appeal system.”
The Committee has also written to the three contractors and disability minister Sarah Newton MP, following the publication of an internal Atos letter showing a “bonus structure” for completing “extra” assessments, over concerns that these “financial incentives” could further reduce the quality of benefit assessments.
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said: “All three contractors insist that offering their assessors extra cash to complete more assessments each day has in no way compromised the service that claimants receive.
“But we have received thousands of accounts of shoddy, error-ridden reports that have slipped through the net.
“A claimant whose PIP report stated she walked her dog daily—despite not being able to walk nor owning a dog—is a case in point. If the contractors cannot consistently deliver quality reports under normal circumstances, how can they hope to do so under this extra pressure?
“The DWP last week put PIP contractors Atos and Capita on warning to improve, or face losing their contacts.
“Hopefully this will give them the push they need to start focusing on what really matters: delivering accurate reports and rebuilding the trust in assessments that is currently desperately lacking.”