Atos itself not fit for work? Disability benefit test provider may finally have contract terminated

 

The Government may soon terminate its contract with controversial firm Atos which currently carries out the “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claimants.

Atos has come under heavy fire for its handling of work capability assessments, which are used to gauge eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Incapacity Benefit. 

Labour MP Dennis Skinner called for the Prime Minister David Cameron to “get rid” of Atos in October, describing the company as a “cruel heartless monster.” There have also been questions over the application of their tests, with claims that people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews.

Ministers are now looking to commission other private firms to add “further capacity” to the assessment system before getting rid of Atos altogether. According to a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) financial review seen by The Guardian the move will enable “these providers to take over the whole contract” from Atos when its £500 million deal ends in 2015.

The restricted 80-page document states: “The department is working with Her Majesty's Treasury and Cabinet office colleagues to seek additional (health assessment) providers to offer further capacity in the short-term and for these providers to then take over the whole contract.”

Civil servants are “involved in ongoing discussions with Atos Healthcare regarding the quality of the service delivered”, it adds.

Atos have been heavily criticised over their so-called work capability assessments. Charities have branded the test “farcical” and “hugely flawed” while Labour last year called for the firm to be stripped of its contract, accusing it of making too many mistakes after 42 per cent of appeals were upheld.

An Atos spokeswoman told The Guardian: “The department has made it clear that it is considering bringing additional providers on board. We recognise that many people have strong feelings about work capability assessments. The constant flow of criticism inevitably has an impact on our staff who diligently endeavour to carry out assessments as laid out in DWP guidelines. We are committed to working with the department to help them meet their needs and the needs of claimants.”

Disability minister Mike Penning last week told MPs the scale of appeals - around 600,000 since its introduction - meant there was “real concern” about the work being carried out. This is particularly concerning given that new rules means anyone wanted to appeal a decision that they are fit to work first has to have all their paperwork looked at again, while receiving no sickness benefits. The Citizens Advice Bureau believes this will result in thousands of people being wrongly forced to survive on no income at all.

A Freedom of Information request revealed that as many as 158,300 people were wrongly found fit for work by Atos, decisions that were overturned before appeal by the DWP.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Atos were appointed the sole provider for delivering work capability assessments by the previous government. In July we announced Atos had been instructed to enact a quality improvement plan to remedy the unacceptable reduction in quality identified in the written reports provided to the department.

“We also announced in the summer we will be bringing in additional provision to deliver work capability assessments with the aim of increasing delivery capacity and reducing waiting times. The invitation to tender will set out that the quality of assessments and service delivery is central to how work capability assessments are delivered.”

Richard Kramer, Deputy Chief Executive at National deafblind charity Sense, said: “The news that the Department for Work and Pensions is considering other providers for fit to work assessments is only part of the picture. There needs to be a root and branch reform of the system to ensure disabled people are judged fairly on their ability to work. The current points-based test is simply not responsive enough to people’s individual circumstances and fails to take into account all of the factors that may limit their ability to work."

The needs of the people that Sense supports are often complex and require specialist input, that in many cases Atos simply hasn’t been able to provide. It is vital that whoever replaces them is able to make a marked improvement to the system. However, ending Atos’ contract will not fix all the underlying problems that led to so many people appealing their work capability assessment decisions.”

Shadow work and pensions minister Kate Green said: “It is becoming increasingly clear that disabled people are being badly let down by Atos, which is why Labour has called on the Government to sack them with immediate effect."

Private providers reported to be in the running include G4S, Serco, A4E and Capita Group. However the appointment of any of these companies may prove controversial, with Atos, G4S, Serco and Capita all being accused of tax avoidance. Atos and G4S paid no corporation tax at all in the UK in 2012, according to the Daily Telegraph. Capita only paid £50-£56 million, while Serco paid £25 million in tax.

Additional reporting by PA

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
fashionHealth concerns and 'pornified' perceptions have made women more conscious at the beach
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
High-flyer: Chris Pratt in 'Guardians of the Galaxy'
filmHe was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
Sport
Van Gaal said that his challenge in taking over Bobby Robson's Barcelona team in 1993 has been easier than the task of resurrecting the current United side
footballA colourful discussion on tactics, the merits of the English footballer and rebuilding Manchester United
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Travel
The shipping news: a typical Snoozebox construction
travelSpending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Arts and Entertainment
Smart mover: Peter Bazalgette
filmHow live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Project Coordinator

Competitive: The Green Recruitment Company: The Organisation: The Green Recrui...

Project Manager (HR)- Bristol - Upto £400 p/day

£350 - £400 per annum + competitive: Orgtel: Project Manager (specializing in ...

Embedded Linux Engineer

£40000 - £50000 per annum + competitive: Progressive Recruitment: Embedded Sof...

Senior Hardware Design Engineer - Broadcast

£50000 - £65000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: Working for a m...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star
How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

How live cinema screenings can boost arts audiences

Broadcasting plays and exhibitions to cinemas is a sure-fire box office smash
Shipping container hotels: Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Pop-up hotels filling a niche

Spending the night in a shipping container doesn't sound appealing, but these mobile crash pads are popping up at the summer's biggest events
Native American headdresses are not fashion accessories

Feather dust-up

A Canadian festival has banned Native American headwear. Haven't we been here before?
Boris Johnson's war on diesel

Boris Johnson's war on diesel

11m cars here run on diesel. It's seen as a greener alternative to unleaded petrol. So why is London's mayor on a crusade against the black pump?
5 best waterproof cameras

Splash and flash: 5 best waterproof cameras

Don't let water stop you taking snaps with one of these machines that will take you from the sand to meters deep
Louis van Gaal interview: Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era

Louis van Gaal interview

Manchester United manager discusses tactics and rebuilding after the David Moyes era
Will Gore: The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series

Will Gore: Outside Edge

The goodwill shown by fans towards Alastair Cook will evaporate rapidly if India win the series
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz