20,000 back-to-work assessments on benefits claimants 'substandard', audit finds

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20,000 back-to-work assessments on
benefits claimants 'substandard', audit
UP TO 20,000 medical assessments on benefit claimants by
the private contractor Atos last year failed to meet basic
standards, a highly critical report by the Government
spending watchdog has disclosed.
The National Audit Office criticised the Department for Work and
Pensions for failing to claw back more taxpayers’ money from the
company for missing performance targets.

Atos has a £112 million-a-year contract to carry out back-to-work
assessments on people claiming the new form of incapacity benefit.

Last year it saw 738,000 people to decide whether they were fit for work
under mass reassessment programme amid the Work and pensions
Secretary’s Iain Duncan-Smith’s drive to get people back to work.

It has sparked huge controversy amid claims sick and disabled people
are being forced to work on the basis of substandard assessments.
The NAO found that some claimants were being sent home without being
seen by doctors while other cases are taking too long to process.

The report, compiled after concerns from MPs, also criticised the
current contract as too lax, with targets which are too easy to meet.
Overall four out of 10 claimants declared fit for work appeal against
the decision of whom 38 per cent succeeded last year.

It is estimated that the appeals themselves cost the taxpayer £60
million a year.

The report found that just under fur per cent of the assessments were
judged to be below “professional standards” last year – the
equivalent of 20,000 cases.

But the contract does not impose any penalty on the company unless
the failure rate goes above five per cent, the equivalent of 37,000
assessments, something the report noted “does not appear
especially challenging”.

But on other measures where targets had been missed, the
department collected only 10 per cent of the financial penalties it
might have done, according to the NAO.
Margaret Hodge chair of the Commons Public Accounts Committee,
said: “The department’s management of this contract has been
unacceptably loose and permits loopholes that can all too easily be
exploited by contractors.

“I am stunned to discover that the department does not check and
challenge the key performance data that supports invoices.”

A spokesman for the DWP said: “Since Atos was awarded the
contract under the previous Government, there has been a significant
amount of change, including improvements to the Work Capability
Assessment (WCA) process following Professor Harrington's

“In 2010, the Work Capability Assessment was not working properly
and since then we've substantially improved it. It's a complicated
area but we're committed to making it a success – so it's fair and
accurate for the user and value for money for the taxpayer.”

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