The claims have been made by Labour MP Fiona Mactaggart, who has written to Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to tell him how her constituents in Slough were facing lengthier, more difficult journeys to reach their assessments, and were waiting far longer than they should be.
As first revealed by Disability News Service, Atos won the personal independence payment (PIP) contract by boasting in a tender document of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where the PIP tests would take place.
But in the months after winning the contract, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private hospital chains dropped out.
Atos stated in the tender that it had a network of 740 assessment sites across London and the south of England, but after the contract was signed, it only managed to secure 96 assessment centres.
This meant thousands of disabled people have faced longer delays in being assessed, and longer and more complicated journeys to reach their assessments, often by inaccessible public transport.
Now Mactaggart has described in her letter to Duncan Smith the impact of Atos’s “misrepresentation” on her constituents in Slough.
And she has asked him how his department scrutinised the tender document; whether discrepancies in the Atos tender were highlighted by civil servants; and how the company’s performance was monitored from the start of the contract.
She said the closest assessment centres to Slough were in Ealing (11 miles away), Reading (15 miles) and Neasden (17 miles).
She said: “For those most vulnerable, with severe physical disabilities or mental health issues, the journeys to reach these assessment centres are long and complicated.
“I have spoken to a number of my constituents who have found the prospect of travelling outside Slough completely overwhelming, occasionally resulting in confusion, anxiety and stress.”
Even when claimants are “occasionally” offered a home appointment, they are often scheduled for “months in the future and are thus financially untenable for people who have already been waiting considerable amounts of time”, she said.
She added: “A common experience is that constituents are referred to Assessment Centres further away to ensure they are assessed quicker.”
Mactaggart – who also asked Duncan Smith a series of questions about how the new PIP system was working in Slough – told him that because of Atos’s “misrepresentation” on how many assessment centres it would provide it was “clear that the capacity for assessments has also been grossly misrepresented”.
She also raised new concerns about Atos losing claimants’ documents, causing them “additional distress and financial difficulty”.
She says in the letter: “On a worrying number of occasions, correspondence sent by claimants to ATOS has been lost, misplaced or not noted on the system.
“Many constituents have lodged appeals to decisions because documents sent in have not been considered as part of the application, thus increasing the workload of ATOS.”
She said it was “obvious that the system needs to be far more specialist, tailored, flexible and supportive”.
And she asked Duncan Smith whether DWP had assessed how Atos’s failings were impacting on PIP claimants.
12 June 2014