Today the Government has announced it has negotiated an early exit from its contract with ATOS to provide Work Capability Assessments (WCA).
ATOS’s performance has been a disaster, a catalogue of long delays and poor decisions, causing misery and fear to thousands of claimants across the country. But, despite their failure to run an effective process for the WCA, unbelievably Ministers awarded them a contract to carry out assessments for PIP in two regions of the UK and this will continue.
ATOS has come under sustained criticism for its delivery of Work Capability Assessments – including reports of crisis meetings between ATOS and DWP because recruitment failures had left the company with a severe shortage of doctors; and widespread incompetence in the delivery of work capability assessments, resulting in four in ten decisions being appealed – of which one third are successful.
The independent Litchfield Review of the WCA, released on the 12th December 2013, showed that delays in assessing whether people are capable of work had increased by 20 per cent by 2012, an appalling delivery failure that took place on this Government’s watch.
The Government has repeatedly failed to take decisive action on the poor performance of ATOS, despite repeated warnings from the Work and Pensions Select Committee, of which I am a member, and testimony from thousands of claimants and their families. They went ahead with a renewal of the ATOS contract in November 2010 and failed to effectively monitor the company’s performance.
The Work and Pensions Select Committee published a report into Work Capability Assessments in 2011, one looking at their performance on Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in 2012 and only this month our assessment of the Department’s performance was highly critical of ATOS’s role in PIP.
Lessons must be learnt from this appalling failure. Any future contracts must be properly drawn up so the company undertaking the testing gets it right more often than not. With the ATOS contract they were paid for each assessment with no consideration of the quality of the assessment, either in outcome (getting the assessment right first time) or process (there were repeated reports of assessments being booked and then cancelled, in some cases without notifying the client). This has resulted in huge numbers of decisions been overturned at appeal. As well as appeals being a drain on scarce public resources they also have put vulnerable people through an unnecessary ordeal.