Value for money? Watchdog turns focus on Atos - the firm that tests people claiming sickness and disability benefits

Atos Healthcare has been paid £754m for the tests since 2005

Political Editor

Public spending watchdogs are to launch a new investigation into Atos Healthcare, the company that carries out controversial medical tests for people claiming sickness and disability benefits.

The National Audit Office (NAO) move emerged as the Government disclosed that Atos has been paid £754m  for the tests since 2005. It has also landed other government contracts, including IT work for the Home Office and Highways Agency.

Lord Freud, the Welfare Reform Minister, revealed that annual spending on the medical services contract had risen from £73.3m in 2005-06 to £114.3m in the  year to March.  He said the increase in the budget is due to a rise in the number of tests.

He was replying to a written House of Lords question this week by Lord Alton of Liverpool, a crossbench peer who  asked the NAO to intervene.  The NAO has told Lord Alton the extension of the Atos contract to a new benefits regime for the disabled is “an area of interest” to it and it has begun discussions with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Lord Alton said: “The Atos contract with the Government has become like a licence to print money. Astronomical sums are involved. Worrying questions have arisen about whether the terms of the company's tender have been met; whether performance matches promise; and whether a project undertaken on the pretext of giving value for money has done so. When millions of pounds of public money is being diverted to private companies, it is crucial that there is accountability, transparency, and public confidence. I welcome the NAO's decision to scrutinise the Atos contract and think the Public Accounts Committee should ask Atos and the DWP to appear before them."

Stephen Timms,  Labour’s employment  spokesman, said: “This  Government has been warned time and again to get a grip of this contract, but the truth is Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] has let Atos spin out of control and the taxpayer and vulnerable people are picking up the pieces.  Anyone taking the Work Capacity Assessment  today is now eight  times more likely to end up in a tribunal than a job and the cost of those appeals has soared by 40 per cent  in the last year alone. Ministers have got to fix this mess – fast.”

 The multinational firm, which sponsored last year’s Paralympic Games in London, has been criticised by employment rights groups for the allegedly harsh way it assesses the sick and disabled. Some 40 per cent of people claiming incapacity benefit  appealed against its rulings and 38 per cent of them were successful. Despite that, the company won a further contract to assess the new personal  independence payments for the disabled.  The Government has been criticised by MPs for allowing a virtual monopoly to develop.  But ministers insist that Atos only makes recommendations about claims, with final decisions taken by the DWP.

Atos has said that it has met its obligations in delivering a “complex and challenging contract” and implemented all the changes recommended by the independent reviews the DWP ordered into the assessment process.

Voices
Hunted: A stag lies dead on Jura, where David Cameron holidays and has himself stalked deer
voicesThe Scotland I know is becoming a playground for the rich
News
newsMcKamey Manor says 'there is no escape until the tour is completed'
News
people'When I see people who look totally different, it brings me back to that time in my life'
Arts and Entertainment
Soul singer Sam Smith cleared up at the Mobo awards this week
newsSam Smith’s Mobo triumph is just the latest example of a trend
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
News
news
News
people

Britain First criticised for using actress's memory to draw attention to their 'hate-filled home page'

Arts and Entertainment
A photograph taken by David Redferm of Sonny Rollins
people
News
news

Emergency call 'started off dumb, but got pretty serious'

Extras
indybest
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

Business Analyst - Surrey - Permanent - Up to £50k DOE

£40000 - £50000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***ASP.NET Developer - Cheshire - £35k - Permanent***

£30000 - £35000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

***Solutions Architect*** - Brighton - £40k - Permanent

£35000 - £40000 Per Annum Excellent benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

Senior Research Fellow in Gender, Food and Resilient Communities

£47,334 - £59,058 per annum: Coventry University: The Centre for Agroecology, ...

Day In a Page

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news: musician splits with manager after police investigate assault claims

Wilko Johnson, now the bad news

Former Dr Feelgood splits with manager after police investigate assault claims
Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands ahead of the US midterm elections

Mark Udall: The Democrat Senator with a fight on his hands

The Senator for Colorado is for gay rights, for abortion rights – and in the Republicans’ sights as they threaten to take control of the Senate next month
New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

New discoveries show more contact between far-flung prehistoric humans than had been thought

Evidence found of contact between Easter Islanders and South America
Cerys Matthews reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of Dylan Thomas

Cerys Matthews on Dylan Thomas

The singer reveals how her uncle taped 150 interviews for a biography of the famous Welsh poet
DIY is not fun and we've finally realised this as a nation

Homebase closures: 'DIY is not fun'

Homebase has announced the closure of one in four of its stores. Nick Harding, who never did know his awl from his elbow, is glad to see the back of DIY
The Battle of the Five Armies: Air New Zealand releases new Hobbit-inspired in-flight video

Air New Zealand's wizard in-flight video

The airline has released a new Hobbit-inspired clip dubbed "The most epic safety video ever made"
Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month - but can you stomach the sweetness?

Pumpkin spice is the flavour of the month

The combination of cinnamon, clove, nutmeg (and no actual pumpkin), now flavours everything from lattes to cream cheese in the US
11 best sonic skincare brushes

11 best sonic skincare brushes

Forget the flannel - take skincare to the next level by using your favourite cleanser with a sonic facial brush
Paul Scholes column: I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Phil Jones and Marcos Rojo

Paul Scholes column

I'm not worried about Manchester United's defence - Chelsea test can be the making of Jones and Rojo
Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

Frank Warren: Boxing has its problems but in all my time I've never seen a crooked fight

While other sports are stalked by corruption, we are an easy target for the critics
Jamie Roberts exclusive interview: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Jamie Roberts: 'I'm a man of my word – I'll stay in Paris'

Wales centre says he’s not coming home but is looking to establish himself at Racing Métro
How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?

A crime that reveals London's dark heart

How could three tourists have been battered within an inch of their lives by a burglar in a plush London hotel?
Meet 'Porridge' and 'Vampire': Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker

Lost in translation: Western monikers

Chinese state TV is offering advice for citizens picking a Western moniker. Simon Usborne, who met a 'Porridge' and a 'Vampire' while in China, can see the problem
Handy hacks that make life easier: New book reveals how to rid your inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone

Handy hacks that make life easier

New book reveals how to rid your email inbox of spam, protect your passwords and amplify your iPhone with a loo-roll
KidZania lets children try their hands at being a firefighter, doctor or factory worker for the day

KidZania: It's a small world

The new 'educational entertainment experience' in London's Shepherd's Bush will allow children to try out the jobs that are usually undertaken by adults, including firefighter, doctor or factory worker