Atos, Maximus and Capita questioned on disability assessments

By agency reporter
December 5, 2017

The Work and Pensions Select Committee is carrying out an inquiry into the assessments which are used to determine eligibility for disability benefits.

The Committee has questioned Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) contractors Atos, Capita and Maximus, who carry out the assessments for disability benefits PIP and ESA, putting the disturbing evidence it has heard so far to them. The Committee has also published the contractors' written evidence ahead of their oral testimony.

The unprecedented public response to the Committee's inquiry has included thousands of individual accounts of medical assessments that the Committee says range from frustrating to gruelling, and oral testimony from claimants and advocacy groups in the first evidence session strongly reinforced that picture. 

Many claimants of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in particular challenge the DWP benefit decision based on these assessments, first through "Mandatory Reconsideration", and then a final appeal stage at a tribunal.

However, in May of this year a Freedom Of Information request revealed that the DWP sets a target for 80 per cent of Mandatory Reconsiderations to uphold the original decision.

On 4 December 2017 the Committee published a letter to the DWP asking how such a target is compatible with a fair and impartial reconsideration process. High proportions of DWP decisions for both benefits are overturned at the tribunal appeal stage, sometimes with a radically different award being decided.

The Committee previously published evidence from the Public and Commercial Services Union (PCS), representing the DWP staff who use the medical assessments to make benefits decisions.

In that evidence PCS says "our members report that there are regular examples where the level of expertise of the person carrying out the assessment does not appear to match the requirements of the health condition being assessed…" and that "we do not believe that there is any real quality control. Previous contracts have only been terminated when failings reached extreme levels."

Also on 4 December 2017 the DWP released statistics on the proportion of medical assessments that are deemed "unacceptable" when they are sent to the Department by contractors Atos and Capita. The charts appear to show remarkably high, if slowly improving, levels of unacceptable reports, in Capita's case at least with extraordinary fluctuations.

Neither contractor has, at any point in the PIP contract, met the performance target of just three per cent of reports deemed "unacceptable". Capita's own auditing found that at points in the contract almost 60 per cent of its reports were "unacceptable".

Read the evidence submitted to the Committee by both claimants and contractors here

Read the Committee's letter to the Minister for Disabled People about the DWP taget to uphold 80 per cent of decisions on Mandatory Reconsideration here

Read the evidence from PCS Union members here

See the statistics on the number of assessments deemed unacceptable here

* Work and Pensions Select Committee


Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.