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Atos, however, are complaining that they have been victimised. Their vice-president, Wayne Gibson, turns up on…
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All repeat medical assessments by Atos have been suspended due to backlog.
In an urgent memo obtained by Benefits and Work, the DWP have told staff that due to a growing backlog at Atos all current employment and support allowance (ESA) claimants will be left on the benefit, without further medical checks, until another company can be found to do repeat work capability assessments (WCAs). The memo, dated 20 January, goes on to say that this will reduce the number of claimants moving off ESA, but that there are no plans to inform claimants or MPs about the change.
Benefits and Work obtained the memo from the DWP via a Freedom of Information request. It is headed: ‘FOR URGENT CASCADE. Control of the Referral of Repeat work Capability Assessments’.
The memo explains that back in July a ministerial statement announced that:
“in the drive to continually improve the Work Capability Assessment process and bring down waiting times for claimants, DWP had decided to seek additional capacity to deliver Work Capability Assessments.
“We are working towards having new provision in place – it will of course take some time for that to become fully operational.”
However, the memo goes on to explain that:
“The number of cases currently with Atos Healthcare has grown. A decision has therefore been taken to control the referral of repeat work capability assessments. Therefore, with effect from 20 January 2014, further routine repeat assessments referrals to Atos will be deferred until further notice.
“Controlling the volume of repeat Work Capability Assessments should help us to reduce delays for new claimants and those that have already been referred.”
The memo goes on to say that staff must still refer claimants for reassessment where there has been a reported change in condition, giving the example of a claimant placed in the Work Related Activity Group whose condition worsens and who might be expected to move into the Support Group.
Aside from this, however, reassessment of existing claimants is to end until further notice, with no new cases being referred to Atos from 20th January.
read the rest of this article posted 24th Feb 2013 on Benefits and Work: http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/news/2645-all-repeat-wca-medicals-to-be-stopped
The French firm judged 158,300 benefit claimants were capable of holding down a job – only for the Department of Work and Pensions to reverse the decision.
Tens of thousands of sick and disabled people were wrongly assessed as fit for work by the private company Atos. The French firm judged 158,300 benefit claimants were capable of holding down a job – only for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to reverse the decision.
The figures from a Freedom of Information request come amid reports the department is set to end the £500million contract with the firm. According to the request, work capability assessments carried out by Atos between August 2010 and June 2013 said 158,300 people with disabilities or a serious illness as fit for work.
In all these cases the DWP went on to decide they should be classed in the work-related activity group or the support group categories for people not yet ready to return to the jobs market. The figures are on top of the estimated 100,000 claimants who have had their Atos assessment overturned on appeal.
Labour’s shadow Work and Pensions minister Kate Green MP said: “What this shows is there are deep-rooted problems with Atos and the DWP has been aware of these problems for several years. It is high time ministers took action. Disabled people have no confidence in a system that is letting them down so badly.”
Atos has been dogged by criticism since winning the contract to carry out work capability assessments. Charities in August described Atos as “farcical” after it told nearly a half of all people suffering from crippling life-long diseases like Parkinson’s they would get better.
Ministers are now looking to end the multi-million pound contract with Atos after an 80-page financial review by the Department for Work and Pensions questioned the quality of the service.
“The department is working with Her Majesty’s Treasury and Cabinet office colleagues to seek additional providers to offer further capacity in the short-term and for these providers to then take over the whole contract,” the review said.
Richard Kramer of the 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.”
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.
read the rest of this article here: http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/atos-wrongly-assessed-thousands-sick-3159343#ixzz2tj6oOCCy
By Sheila Gilmore MP on the Huffington Post
My constituent Jane suffers from Huntingdon’s Disease. In September she applied for Personal Independence Payment – the benefit the government introduced following their abolition of Disability Living Allowance – which is intended to help people with the extra costs they face as a result of living with disabilities.
She had a face-to-face assessment with one of the government’s contractors – Atos Healthcare Ltd – on 18 November. By the end of January her application was still with Atos. On 14 February she was told her application had now been returned to the Department for Work and Pensions, but it would be another six weeks before she got the decision. That will mean the process will have taken six months from start to finish.
If Jane gets an award, her payments will be backdated to September, but if her application is refused and she appeals, there could be further months of uncertainty.
Jane is a single parent with five children. Anxiety and depression is common in sufferers of Huntingdon’s, but my constituent’s state of health is worsening as a result of the delays. In her own words “I am struggling with everyday life, it’s always on my mind”.
Delays, delays and more delays
This is by no means the longest period of delay being reported by other PIP claimants, and it’s not just a problem for Atos – already notorious for their role in Employment and Support Allowance assessments – but also for the government’s other contractor Capita.
The delays are clear from the government’s own interim management figures, which show that by December 2013, 220,300 applications had been submitted (excluding claims for terminal illnesses) but only 34,200 awards had been made.
Ministers stated that their expectation before the system “went live” was that processing of claims would take 12-15 weeks. It is taking at least twice as long for most.
Pilot? What pilot?
PIP has been available to new claimants since June 2013. Most of those who are currently on DLA will not go through the reassessment process until October 2015. However those whose award runs out before that date or whose circumstances change will still be called in, potentially piling delay upon delay.
There was a pilot in some parts of the north of England, but this ran for only two months before the new benefit went live nationwide. The Work and Pensions Select Committee – of which I’m a member – raised doubts about such a short pilot in advance, but our concerns were brushed off. One oddity is the contrast with Universal Credit, where the roll out has been slowed to a snail’s pace.
In December the disabilities minister told the Select Committee that all assessments were being internally audited by the providers before being passed back to the DWP. That suggests a lack of confidence in the training provided by contactors – something the government should have realised was an issue when Atos and Capita were tendering for this work.
Then in February the secretary of state, Iain Duncan Smith, he argued that PIP was being rolled out “carefully” and they were adjusting the process as they went along. Given the experience of people like Jane, I’m afraid this just doesn’t wash.
The reality is that disabled people are being used as guinea pigs because of the government’s total failure to properly pilot the PIP application process and ensure its contractors were up to the job. IDS and his ministers should be ashamed.
Huge delays to applications for the government’s new disability benefit have been caused partly by far more disabled people than planned being forced to attend face-to-face assessments.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had intended that about three-quarters of claimants would have to attend a face-to-face assessment for the new personal independence payment (PIP).But Robert Devereux, DWP’s permanent secretary, told the work and pensions select committee this week that the actual figure was about 10-15 per cent higher than that. And he admitted that the assessments were also taking longer than during testing. He said that the two companies carrying out the assessments – Atos Healthcare and Capita – were in discussions with DWP about recruiting and training more assessors and “making the process as efficient as it needs to be”, in order to deal with the backlog.
A DWP spokesman told Disability News Service (DNS) later that there were no official figures yet on the number of face-to-face assessments carried out. And he said DWP did not comment on estimates. DNS has been reporting since December that many claimants of PIP – which is gradually replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA) – are facing lengthy delays with their applications.
Dame Anne Begg, the Labour chair of the committee, said: “Six months after people have had the face-to-face assessment, they still don’t know if they are getting the award or not.”
Devereux insisted that cuts to the DWP workforce of 20,000 staff, and running DWP on a budget £2 billion a year less than in 2009-10, had not played a role in these delays and that the social security system was “working much better than it previously used to do, delivering much better results for its citizens”.
The Conservative work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, claimed in the same evidence session that the government was rolling out the PIP assessment “slowly and carefully”, with adjustments made when they hit a problem. He said: “This in a sense is what is called a rolling pilot. You learn as you go along and you adjust and you don’t completely open up the volume… because we have decided we need to adjust before we go to the next phases.”
Dame Anne said this was “not quite true”, as the assessment was being used for all new PIP claimants, and that it was only the rollout of the reassessment to those currently claiming working-age disability living allowance that was being delayed.
Sheila Gilmore, a Labour member of the committee, suggested that new PIP claimants were being used “as a kind of guinea pig” instead of there being a proper pilot project to test out the assessment. She said there had been a pilot last April but the rollout had begun two months later, before DWP had time to learn any lessons.
Gilmore said that Atos had told another Commons committee that assessments were taking twice as long as had been anticipated.
Dame Anne told DNS after the evidence session: “The secretary of state and the minister for disabled people have said they are taking things slowly so they could get it right. I don’t think anybody would have an argument with that but what they are doing is not slowing it down, they have brought it to a dead stop.
“There is obviously a huge backlog with PIP assessments but there is no indication that that backlog is moving at all.
“I get the impression that both Capita and Atos are almost paralysed with fear about making any decisions, in case they get it wrong, so they are not making any decisions at all.”
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) could face further multimillion-pound charges as a result of two troubled IT projects.
A plan to provide an online benefits enquiry service has run into delays and delivery problems, while separately the government is negotiating with Fujitsu for a settlement over a £300m contract that was cancelled by DWP three years ago.
DWP has already had to scrap £40m of IT work on its Universal Credit programme, and is currently assessing its options over the two other projects that could end up requiring a similar total bill.
One project is My Benefits Online (MyBOL), a web-based enquiry service to allow recipients of certain benefits to view basic information online.
DWP issued a tender in January 2013 for detailed user testing on the system, but 12 months later it has still not gone live.
MyBOL was first conceived about five years ago, but the DWP has reduced its scope since then. Computer Weekly has learned that the Government Digital Service (GDS) vetoed the original version of the system, and DWP is now assessing a number of options for how best to move forward.
One option under consideration is to bring in an SME supplier with agile development skills to help bring the software up to GDS standards. But even this option means a significant reduction in the financial benefits anticipated from MyBOL, to the point that the project could be written off, according to sources.
A key question for DWP is whether any of the work on MyBOL could be reused by other digital services being developed, such as Universal Credit and Single-Tier Pensions, said the source. If the work is written off entirely, our source suggested the bill could be as much as £20m.
In response to a parliamentary question last week, employment minister Esther McVey said: “The vast majority of the My Benefits Online service has been developed. We have taken time recently to review the changing needs of our customers and the standards proposed for all government online services, as determined by Government Digital Standards. A total cost of the service is not yet available and we do not have a confirmed date for completion.”
by Brian Glick in Computer Weekly, 4th Feb 2014:
Under new rules introduced by the Department for Work and Pensions, anyone wanting 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 Government said that this “mandatory reconsideration” would cut down on bureaucracy and take just two weeks, but some disabled and sick people are being wrongly assessed and left with no support for months on end.
Kate Green MP, the shadow minister for equalities, said that “the government are putting vulnerable people in an impossible position. They urgently need to get a grip to ensure the system is fair and effective”
The Work Capability Assessment, which is exclusively carried out by Atos healthcare, is so notoriously slapdash that in 2012 more than 42 per cent of appeals against decisions were upheld. Their poor performance is understood to have prompted the assessments contract being put out to tender. Blunders include ruling that a 39-year-old woman from Livingstone with a brain tumour was fit to work just weeks before she died and a double heart and lung transplant patient from Essex dying nine days after being declared well enough for employment.
Previously if a controversial assessment wrongly concluded someone was well enough to work, people could appeal immediately, and received benefits while they did this. Now a formal appeal can only be launched after this reconsideration process is completed. The Government is hoping its new system will nudge people off disability benefits, drive them to signing on to Job Seekers’ Allowance and abandon their sickness benefit application. However, many seriously ill patients who have been wrongly assessed are unable or unwilling to do this, since signing onto JSA means declaring themselves fit to work.
In 2013, Citizens Advice Bureaux across the country dealt with nearly half a million issues with Employment Support Allowance, the benefit for those deemed incapable of working.
Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, said: “This system is failing far too many people. Anyone could suddenly become sick or disabled and it’s vital that we have a strong system in place to help people cope with the unexpected. It can’t be right that a decision about someone’s health can be reached without even a basic consideration of medical evidence. Far too often, sick and disabled people are caught in a catch-22 where they are forced to pay for a doctor’s help to appeal against a decision which was wrong in the first place.
“The extra red tape hurdle recently put in place by ministers before people can get much-needed support will mean thousands are wrongly forced to go it alone with no source of income. The best way to get the number and cost of appeals down is to make sure decisions are right first time rather than forcing people to jump through unnecessary and stressful extra hoops.”
Since 2008 nearly a million people who applied for sickness benefit have been found fit for work, according to figures from the Department for Work and Pensions. The figure does not include those who successfully appeal against the ruling.
Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: “We should be talking about getting a million more disabled people into work. But, this piece of red tape could make disabled people’s lives harder, without making them more likely to find work.”
He added: “Concerns with the Work Capability Assessment continue to stack up. The cost of appeals has skyrocketed, assessors have resigned in disgust, and the test has received criticism from the Public Accounts Committee and National Audit Office. We have also witnessed shocking undercover footage of how Atos assessors are trained and heard horror stories of disabled people inappropriately found fit to work. If the Government is serious about getting more disabled people into work, they need a test that is the start of the journey that gives disabled people the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need.”
A DWP spokesman said that the department had made tests fairer and more accurate, with appeals upheld in 15 per cent of their total caseload. He added: “We want to get this decision right first time – and all too often a case goes through the long and costly appeal process, only to be resolved when the claimant produces new evidence which wasn’t available in the first place.
read the rest of this article by Emily Dugan in the Independent here: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/exclusive-claimants-lose-all-their-income-under-disability-benefits-reform-9107586.html
A MAN forced to give up work with heart problems had his benefits axed for failing to complete a capability assessment… after suffering a heart attack during the examination.
The man, who received employment support allowance, was required to attend a work-capability assessment to assess his suitability for work.
During the appointment he was told he was having a heart attack, forcing the nurse to stop the assessment.
Two weeks later he got a letter from Jobcentre Plus saying he had withdrawn from the assessment and was being sanctioned. The man took his case to Oldham East and Saddleworth MP Debbie Abrahams.
A spokesman for the MP said: “It is meeting constituents with terrible stories like this that spurred Debbie on to publicly question Iain Duncan Smith and make the Government face the consequences of benefit sanctions policies.
“No-one’s saying people on benefits shouldn’t have to look for work when appropriate. But this government is going beyond the pale in using underhand tactics to force vulnerable people off benefits to massage the unemployment data.”
The man is one of a string of people who have spoken to the MP, whose campaigning has forced a Work and Pensions Committee review into the matter.
An anonymous woman was sanctioned after missing an appointment despite phoning on the morning of her assessment to explain her difficulty in attending due to widespread arthritis and the need for two knee replacements. The DWP wrote to say they “doubt the reasons she provided”.
Another man began claiming Jobseekers’ Allowance in November 2012 after living off a redundancy payment. He received a letter from Jobcentre Plus in Preston saying his allowance was stopped on May 15 2013 because he had failed to attend an interview the day before. In fact he HAD attended and saw an adviser — just not the one he was scheduled to see, because he was unavailable.
Despite the Jobcentre’s mistake the man was told his only course is to appeal or submit a new claim — which put him overdrawn at the bank. The MP’s spokesman added: “I am very concerned about the rising number of cases coming to me of increased use of sanctions. The knock-on effect of unfair sanctions is financial hardship and poverty for people already living on low incomes.”
By Robbie Gill for the Oldham Evening Chronicle, 31st Jan 2014: http://www.oldham-chronicle.co.uk/news-features/8/news-headlines/84423/heartattack-victim-in-cashaxe-shock
This headline misuses statistics from a poll about the Benefit Cap last July 2013. The government misused the same statistics in a different way, to make their political point. What is more worrying is that the Department of Work and Pensions also appears to have misused statistics from the poll in its own report, selecting only those results that support government policy, and stating as fact conclusions which the data simply doesn’t show. If the truth has to be altered to suit the palates of the government, how can they possibly make policies that deal with reality?
This is the subject of ‘Freedom of Information request 3338/2013′,
Received 16 July 2013
Concern about misuse of statistics by Department of Works and Pensions (DWP):
freedom of information request
The DWP yesterday released a much quoted poll, conducted by Ipsos Mori, of 500 people who had been informed they would be affected by the Benefit Cap but had since found work; the aim of the poll was to see if, having been informed that they would be affected by the cap, unemployed people on benefits had been motivated to find work because of a possible drop in their income. The main findings as quoted from the DWP website and Iain Duncan Smith, Work and Pensions Secretary
• 45% said they had sometimes, rarely or never been in paid employment since leaving school or further education
• around half of people who knew about the cap took action in response to it, with 62% of them looking for a job
• 61% of those currently in work found their current job after they were told about the cap
• this figure increases to 72% of those who report having been infrequently in the workplace during their working lives
Further details are available in the report ‘Public perceptions of the benefit cap and pre-implementation impacts’, accessed via a link on the same page
After reading the report and original data, I believe your department has misrepresented and selectively reported its findings to the public, to bias opinion in the government’s favour. With further pressure to reduce the benefit cap, this is not acceptable practice in public office; clear, reliable information needs to be provided to the electorate to make informed decisions.
My first and main reservation with your figures is with regards to the second point above, or a statement to the effect that ‘of those who knew about the cap and took action, 62% looked for a job in response to it’. Having looked at t he data, this is extremely misleading. Though,indeed 99 out of the 160 people who knew about the cap (what they knew about it is another matter) and took action did look for a job after hearing about the cap, you have omitted to mention that 84 of these 99 individuals were already looking for work anyway, or 85% of them. So, it should have read ‘of those that took action in response to the cap, a further 15 people/9% looked for work. I believe the Ipso s poll is being misrepresented to imply that the introduction of the Benefit Cap motivated the unemployed to find work, rather than those people already looking for work anyway, thus stigmatising the unemployed by depicting them as feckless and only able to seek jobs if forced to by the government.
To then state ‘61% of those currently in work found their current job after they were told about the cap’ is meaningless. This result does not tell us any more information about whether they were motivated to find work more after hearing about the cap. Reading the results, many who took action were, in fact, motivated by concern about bedroom tax and changes to local housing allowances rather than the cap itself.
The other findings from the report, which are broadly against the DWP position that the cap will induce people to gain employment, are not quoted at all on the DWP website alongside the 4 main points above to provide context. For instance, 66% of people surveyed knew ‘just a little’ or ‘very little/nothing’ about the cap, hardly evidence that it has affected their decision making. Nor is the point made that 68% of respondents were routinely running out of money at the end of the month in the year prior to the survey.
Read the whole of this Freedom of Information Request on the Government’s website, here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/274873/foi-3338-13.pdf