The two companies carrying out assessments for the government’s controversial new disability benefit look set to offer contrasting experiences to disabled people who undergo the tests.
The Disability Benefits Consortium (DBC), whose members include Disability Rights UK, Inclusion London, RNIB and Transport for All, asked the two providers a series of questions about how they planned to deliver the new tests.
Atos Healthcare will provide personal independence payment (PIP) assessments in the south of England, the north of England and Scotland, with the outsourcing giant Capita delivering assessments in central England, Wales and Northern Ireland.
DBC asked Atos – which already carries out the government’s “fitness for work” tests – and Capita how they would meet 10 “pledges” relating to delivery of the PIP assessment.
One of the biggest differences, according to DBC’s report, is that Capita appears to want to offer claimants assessments in their own homes, and a choice over the date and time of their test.
Capita later clarified its position, telling Disability News Service (DNS) that it was “committed to ensuring claimants have choice regarding the location and scheduling of their assessment, where this can be done fairly and safely and within the 30-day window set by the DWP”.
Atos says it will choose dates and times of assessments itself, with claimants needing to request any changes. And it says that home visits “will only be offered to claimants who fit certain criteria, set by the DWP”, because of the extra cost.
Capita also told DBC that it would try to find assessors with expertise to match claimants’ impairments or conditions, which Atos has refused even to consider.
Capita told DNS that specialist health professionals would be involved “in the initial, paper-based assessment of all claims and, where possible and necessary, face-to-face assessments will also be conducted by a specialist matching the claimant’s impairment”.
Capita had also proposed offering audio recording of assessments to any claimant who requested one, but the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has now told Capita this will not be allowed, at least until it has seen further evidence from recording of fitness for work tests.
DBC called on Atos to “follow the lead of Capita and give claimants a choice of a home visit… and a choice of possible dates and times”, but also said it was “vital to monitor whether Capita’s approach is carried out effectively in practice”.
It also called on Atos to “match assessors with specific expertise to claimants with relevant conditions”, as Capita was doing, although again it said it would be vital to monitor how Capita carried this out.
Disability Wales (DW) had described DWP’s decision to ban Capita from offering recording of assessments as “yet another major blow inflicted upon disabled people in Wales by the UK government”.
It had said that anyone who has experienced a fitness for work test “will know that having the meeting audio recorded leads to significantly improved outcomes for claimants”, providing an incentive to assessors to “act professionally”, and eliminating possible disputes about what took place.
But it welcomed DWP’s concession that claimants would be allowed to make their own recording of their assessment – “if they follow [DWP] procedures” – which DW said was a “significant departure from previous policy”.
DW said it had been “cautiously pleased” that Atos had not won the contract to deliver assessments in Wales, while Capita had “demonstrated a willingness to engage with DW and other organisations to ensure that assessments are carried out as sensitively and appropriately as possible”.
In its response to the DBC report, DWP said that it was “always anticipated that elements of the claimant experience would differ between the two assessment providers and there is no intention to force consistency where this is not required”, while “having more than one assessment provider will encourage innovation and promote best practice”.
An Atos spokeswoman said: “We are committed to providing a good service to people who will need to go through the assessment process and welcome feedback from a wide range of sources.
“We are working with a number of representative groups and the Department [for Work and Pensions] to ensure the overall PIP service is as good as it can be.”