Welfare tests ‘trigger lack of trust in system’, warns powerful group of MPs. The report was heavily critical of the Department for Work and Pensions.
Hated Government welfare tests have unleashed a “pervasive lack of trust” in the system, MPs warn today. Contracting out assessments for Personal Independence Payments and Employment and Support Allowance fuelled victims’ agony, the Commons Work and Pensions Committee reveals.
In a 71-page report, it calls on ministers to scrap the current arrangements and take tests back in house. Chairman Frank Field said: “For the majority of claimants the assessments work adequately, but a pervasive lack of trust is undermining its entire operation. “In turn, this is translating into untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse. No one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.”
Since 2013, 290,000 rejected claims for Personal Independence Payments or Employment and Support Allowance have been granted on appeal – 6% of all those assessed.
The Department for Work and Pensions has spent “hundreds of millions of pounds” of taxpayers’ money checking and defending decisions made on the basis of reports by private contractors, according to the MPs’ study.
There was evidence the companies carrying out assessments – Atos, Capita and Maximus – produced reports “riddled with errors and omissions”, the committee says.
Almost 4,000 PIP and ESA claimants responded to the committee’s consultation, outlining “shocking and moving, credible and consistent” accounts of the system’s failings.
Many did not trust the companies’ non-specialist assessors to record evidence of their conditions accurately. Assessors were viewed as “at best lacking in competence and at worst actively deceitful”, while many claimants reported experiencing “a great deal of anxiety and other deleterious health impacts”.
One claimant was said in her assessment report to walk her dog, despite not owning one and being barely able to walk. Another, who remained in bed throughout her interview at home, was reported to have risen from a chair “without any difficulty” even though the only chair in the room was the one the assessor was sitting on.
Maximus took over the contract for ESA assessments in 2014, after Atos negotiated an early exit from its deal. Worth £595million when awarded for the period up to 2018, it has now been extended to early 2020.
Contracts for PIP assessments are held by Capita in Wales and the Midlands and Atos in the rest of England and Scotland and were worth a combined total of £512million when initially awarded for the period 2012-17. They have since been extended to mid-2019.
Mr Field said: “The current contracts have not made the system fairer, have not made it more transparent and have not made it more efficient.
“They are up for review, and market interest appears limp.
“The existing contractors have consistently failed to meet basic performance standards but other companies are hardly scrambling over each other to take over. The Government should be prepared to take assessments in-house.”
A DWP spokesman said: “As the Work and Pensions Select Committee highlights, assessments work for the majority of people, with 83% of ESA claimants and 76% of PIP claimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience.
“However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.” [PMSL]