The company that carries out “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claims is seeking an early exit from its contract with the Government in the face of persistent death threats to staff.
Atos Healthcare confirmed that it has been in discussions with officials for “several months” about ending its £500m work capability assessment contract, which is due to run to August 2015.
The Financial Times reported the French-run company had recorded around 160 incidents a month last year of members of the public assaulting or abusing its staff. Examples on Facebook were said to include: “murdering scum... won’t be smiling when we come to hang you bastards.”
The company has regularly come under fire over the assessments – which are used to gauge eligibility for employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit – amid claims people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews. Disability campaigners have described the work tests as “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair”.
A spokesman for Atos insisted that it would not “walk away” from the contract and that it would continue to provide a service until new contractors had been appointed.
Nevertheless, relations with the Department for Work and Pensions appear to be close to breakdown amid persistent criticism over the quality of its assessments.