'Human cost' of private provider PIP assessments 'shocking', say MPs

Written by John Ashmore and Tom Freeman on 14 February 2018 in News

Work and Pensions Committee warns contractors are failing claimants

DWP - John Stillwell/PA Archive

MPs have delivered a scathing verdict on the assessment system for disability benefits, warning it is having an "untenable human cost" on claimants. 

The Work and Pensions Committee said there was now a strong case for taking the assessments in-house, rather than contracting them out to private companies. 

Since the introduction of Personal Independence Payments (PIP) in 2013 some 290,000 appeals against decisions have been granted - 6 per cent of the total number.

The MPs said contractors such as Atos, Capita and Maximus had also failed to meet the standards expected by the Department for Work and Pensions.

"None of the providers has ever hit the quality performance targets set for them, and many claimants experience a great deal of anxiety and other deleterious health impacts over a process that is regarded as 'opaque and unfriendly' throughout," the MPs write in their latest report.

Committee chair 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...

"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."

As part of its inquiry the committee compiled a list of "shocking" stories from claimants about assessors making basic errors. 

They included one woman whose assessment said she was capable of walking her dog, even though she did not own one. 

Another claimed a woman had been able to get up from a chair "without any difficulty" when she had been in bed for the entire interview. 

"Government cannot, must not, fail to recognise the unprecedented response the Committee had to this inquiry, remarkable for the consistency and clarity of themes that emerged through thousands of individual accounts. No one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change," Field added.

Among the changes the committee has recommended is recording the assessments so there is transparency about the process. 

Field said there had been a "bewildering" resistance from the department to a move that he said would both restore trust and save money on costly appeals. 

"Recording the face-to-face assessment would go so far toward increasing transparency and restoring trust it beggars belief that this is not already a routine element of the process," he said.

However a Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said that in general the system was working well for most claimants.

“As the Work and Pensions Select Committee highlights, assessments work for the majority of people, with 83 per cent of ESA claimants and 76 per cent of PIP claimants telling us that they’re happy with their overall experience," he said.

“However, our aim has to be that every person feels they are treated fairly, with respect and dignity.”

The Scottish Government has ruled out using private providers in benefits assessments for new devolved benefits but there was anger last year after most of the £96m contracts to run Scotland's new devolved employability programme to the private sector.

Part of Fair Start Scotland's remit will be to find work for disabled people.



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