The government should investigate allegations of poor treatment by the company that carries out medical assessments of disabled people who apply for disability benefits, according to a committee of MPs.
A new work and pensions committee report says the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should also investigate complaints about the computerised assessment process used by the company, ATOS Healthcare.
The committee “received many complaints about the medical assessment process”, along with “widespread concerns” that those making benefits decisions in the DWP “appear to give excessive weight” to the medical assessments over other evidence provided by claimants.
The report, Decision-Making and Appeals in the Benefits System, calls on the government to set up a welfare commission to examine how to make a “fair but simpler” benefits system.
Citizens Advice told the committee that decisions become “increasingly complex” for disability benefits such as incapacity benefit (IB), employment and support allowance (ESA) and disability living allowance (DLA).
Dr Mark Baker, head of social research and policy at RNID, told the committee that many people found the 58-page DLA claim form “utterly mystifying”.
The report says that the quality of decision-making on claims for DLA and attendance allowance is “a cause for concern” because of this complexity.
It also raises concerns about cuts in welfare rights advice in some parts of the country.
Campaigners also told the committee of their concerns about the work capability assessment (WCA), the test for those claiming ESA, the new out-of-work disability benefit. The report calls on DWP to say when it will publish its internal review of the assessment.
And it says DWP should ensure terminally-ill ESA claimants are no longer forced to undertake work-focused interviews.
It concludes that an “increased focus on the quality of decision making” to match the DWP’s “successful focus on fraud” could have a “very significant effect” in reducing the cost of benefits appeals.
A DWP spokesman said it would give its full response to the report “in due course”, but added: “We’re pleased that the committee has recognised that every day the vast, vast majority of our claimants are getting the right benefits on time.
“But we know there is more to do and we are making strides to simplify the benefits system.”
And he said the government would publish its review of the WCA once it had considered its recommendations.
9 February 2010