SCOTTISH ministers may stop private companies carrying out vital welfare assessments as Holyrood prepares to take charge of social security, it has emerged.
People with specific conditions may also be spared the tests under plans being considered by the Scottish Government.
Social Security Secretary Angela Constance yesterday said ministers are reluctant to allow companies to profit from assessing whether or not members of the public qualify for benefits.
Multi-national company Atos is currently contracted to carry out checks on personal independence payment (PIP) claimants in Scotland. The benefit, which replaces the disability living allowance (DLA), helps meet the extra costs of living with a long-term health condition or disability.
Claimants have to undergo face-to-face consultations, with Atos staff scoring them on how much help they need, the results of which are fed back to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in order to set the level of payment, if any. The maximum sum is £139.75 a week and eligibility is based on the ability to undertake a series of activities including eating and drinking, using the toilet, washing and communicating.
However, many face serious difficulties in simply reaching assessment centres and there have been repeated complaints about the system, with users saying they have been judged on their hairstyles and demeanour instead of their clinical conditions.
Yesterday, ministers emphasised their intention to create a more “humane” system where those with serious conditions are awarded automatic payments on diagnosis, sparing them the tests.
They also indicated that the forthcoming Scottish social security agency, which will be set up to handle the devolved benefits, may not work with private firms, instead gathering the required information on the health of applicants from their GPs or consultants.