The DWP has launched a legal battle at a tribunal to stop a report about Work Capability Assessments (WCA) becoming public
The Tory government is fighting to keep details of hated fit-for-work tests secret – because releasing them would hurt firms’ ‘commercial interests’.
Officials have launched an extraordinary taxpayer-funded legal battle to stop a report on Work Capability Assessments (WCA) becoming public.
Campaigners say the tests, which decide if people are sick or disabled enough to get benefits, are deeply flawed despite costing £200m a year.
Yet the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is refusing to publish an ‘outcome report’ by the private firms that run the tests.
The DWP claims releasing the report, which contains monthly performance details from each testing centre, could give a “perception of under-performance” when read out of context.
This would “damage the reputation and financial standing of the companies involved,” officials claim.
The tests are run by a firm called Centre for Health and Disability Assessments, which is itself run by outsourcing giant Maximus.
Before that the tests were run by controversial welfare-to-work firm Atos.
The DWP claims itself, Maximus and Atos are all likely to have their commercial interests “prejudiced” if the report is released because its data goes back to 2011.
A watchdog rejected the DWP’s claims in a damning ruling more than four months ago and ordered it to release the report.
The Information Commissioner slammed the DWP for “barely explaining” how private firms would be hit, adding: “The Commissioner is not persuaded that there is a real likelihood that disclosure of the withheld information would dissuade these companies from entering into future contracts with the government.”
But the DWP is now appealing that ruling to a legal tribunal, delaying the case until around November.
The battle was triggered by a Freedom of Information request from project manager and freedom of information campaigner John Slater.
The 52-year-old told the Mirror: “It’s disappointing when the Commissioner issued such a blunt decision and they’ve not backed up their arguments at all.”
A DWP spokesman said: “This information is exempt from disclosure under FOI rules as it covers commercial interests.
“We publish a range of information on WCA outcomes, including at a regional level.”
Maximus and Atos had not returned requests for comment at the time of publication. There is no suggestion of wrongdoing by the two firms in the Information Commissioner’s report. source
Documents relating to the government’s controversial fit-for-work tests could be blocked from publication after the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) launched a legal challenge.
In April, John Slater submitted a Freedom of Information request (FOI) asking for details of the ‘outcome reports’ which are completed by the private company contracted to carry out the tests. The reports would include information about the number of people with a terminal illness or limited capability to work subjected to the test.
The DWP initially said it did not hold the information but later argued that releasing it could damage the company’s commercial interests.
The Information Commissioner’s Office ruled that the DWP must publish the documents but the department has appealed that decision, meaning the case will now be heard at the First Tier tribunal.
“The DWP’s decision is very disappointing,” Slater said. “At times it seems like they operate the default position of appealing any decision made by the commissioner that goes against it, regardless of the costs or the merits of its case.
“The commissioner was clear in her decision notice that the DWP had relied on “barely explained assertions” to justify its position and yet it is exposing the public purse to the expense of a tribunal hearing.”
Since 2015, Work Capability Assessments (the official name for the tests) have been carried out by the Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), a subsidiary of the company Maximus.
The outcome reports are produced every month by the CHDA and detail the outcomes of the tests from each assessment centre.
Last year, Slater a won a lengthy legal battle with the DWP over the disclosure of documents relating to problems with Universal Credit.
A spokesperson for the DWP said:
“This information is exempt from disclosure under FOI rules as it covers commercial interests. We publish a range of information on WCA outcomes, including at a regional level.”