Last week DWP announced it is developing in-house IT capacity for the medical assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) currently carried out by private contractors Atos and Capita, whose contracts have been renewed for an interim 2 year period only.
The Committee’s February report on the assessments found that “the definition of an "acceptable" report leaves ample room for reports riddled with errors and omissions”. Despite this low bar, all three contractors had failed to meet their key targets in any single period to that point, and both Capita and Atos still have not. “Large sums of money have been paid to contractors despite quality targets having been universally missed. The taxpayer has spent hundreds of millions of pounds more checking and defending DWP decisions based on the contractors' reports - not least in externalised costs in the Tribunal appeal system”.
Following publication of an internal Atos letter describing a bonus structure for completing “extra” assessments, the Committee wrote to all three contractors - Atos, Capita and Maximus who carry out the ESA assessments - and disability Minister Sarah Newton, with concerns over the potential for further reducing the quality of the assessments of a financial incentive to “rush”. The full series of correspondence is being published today.
Despite all three contractors, and the Department, repeating assurances that measures are in place to uphold quality even with the “volume” bonus, the Committee has already established that these “quality” measures do not actually measure the quality of content in the report - only how they are written literally. Those existing quality “assurances” have also, of course, not ensured that Capita or Atos have ever met their contractual quality target, and Maximus has only done so for the first time recently, as described in their response.
Commenting on the correspondence, Rt Hon Frank Field MP, Chair of the Committee, said:
“All three contractors insist that offering their assessors extra cash to complete more assessments each day has in no way compromised the service that claimants receive. But we have received thousands of accounts of shoddy, error-ridden reports that have slipped through the net. A claimant whose PIP report stated she walked her dog daily—despite not being able to walk nor owning a dog—is a case in point. If the contractors cannot consistently deliver quality reports under normal circumstances, how can they hope to do so under this extra pressure?
“The DWP last week put PIP contractors Atos and Capita on warning to improve, or face losing their contacts. Hopefully this will give them the push they need to start focusing on what really matters: delivering accurate reports and rebuilding the trust in assessments that is currently desperately lacking.”
Image: Roger Harris