A new report has revealed “serious inaccuracies” in the assessments of disabled people’s “fitness for work” carried out by the private company Atos Healthcare on behalf of the government.
The charity Citizens Advice analysed 37 reports written by Atos “healthcare professionals” (HCPs) who had tested disabled people using the much-criticised work capability assessment (WCA).
Citizens Advice’s (CA) Right First Time report shows a “serious level of inaccuracy” in 16 of the 37 WCA reports, with a “medium” level of inaccuracy in a further 10.
The report calls on DWP to impose financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate report it produces, and for the government to introduce independent monitoring of the accuracy of WCA reports.
The report also warns that WCA reports were increasingly being used to help determine eligibility for disability living allowance (DLA), which meant their accuracy was even more important.
The report says that some Atos assessors reported that claimants had performed actions they were not able to carry out, or performed them unaided when they had needed help to do so.
The most common complaint was the “general inaccuracy” of assessors in recording what claimants had said.
The WCA was introduced in 2008 to test eligibility for employment and support allowance (ESA), the replacement for incapacity benefit.
CA said it had particular concerns about cases in which ESA had been awarded but an inaccurate report had subsequently been used to help determine eligibility for DLA.
Such claimants would probably not have requested copies of their WCA report and so would not have been aware of the potential impact of its inaccuracy on their DLA claim.
A DWP spokeswoman said the CA report was based on only 37 WCAs, compared with the 564,500 completed in the year to February 2011, and “relies solely on CA’s interpretation of the HCP’s report, and does not allow the HCP the opportunity to explain the reasoning behind what was recorded”.
She added: “Many improvements to the WCA have been made since the CA survey began and [it]does not acknowledge several of the changes which have now been implemented.”
She said all HCPs were “registered with an appropriate professional body” and trained in “disability assessment medicine”, while their work was “subjected to stringent quality audit”.
An Atos spokeswoman said the company would be “carefully considering” the report.
She said that fewer than nine per cent of all decisions made were overturned on appeal, although Atos hoped to work with CA “to drive further improvements”.
She said DWP already audited its assessments, and Atos was “measured against criteria set by the DWP which it consistently meets, while financial penalties were applied if it failed to meet “agreed service levels”.
12 January 2012