Key details reveal how four private sector providers have been told to carry out health and disability benefit assessments over the next five years, after being awarded £2.8 billion-worth of contracts by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
The contracts were awarded last year to outsourcing giants Capita, Serco, Ingeus UK and Maximus to provide “functional health assessments” from September this year across the UK.
In each of five UK areas, each contractor will be responsible for providing assessments for personal independence payment (PIP), employment and support allowance, universal credit, and 15 other “specialist” benefits.
Disability News Service has now examined the five 940-page contracts and extracted some of the most important details that will affect disabled claimants, following a freedom of information request.
As with the assessment arrangements under the much-criticised current contractors Capita, Atos – which failed to win any contracts under the new DWP bidding process – and Maximus, face-to-face assessments will have to take place within a 90-minute public transport journey from the claimant’s home, which the contracts say should be regarded as “an absolute maximum”.
Only “a small minority” of claimants should face such a journey, the contracts say.
As with current rules, all work capability assessments (WCAs) and assessments for specialist benefits in England, Scotland and Wales will be carried out on DWP premises – at no charge to the contractor – unless DWP gives permission for them to take place elsewhere.
But contractors will be allowed to carry out PIP assessments in other premises.
All assessments will have to take place in ground-floor locations, which “must be easy for all customers to reach”, unless otherwise agreed in advance with DWP.
The contracts also state that claimants will only be allowed to “fail to attend” a PIP assessment or a work capability assessment once – including those carried out by telephone or at home – with their benefit application returned by the contractor to DWP after a second failure.
Claimants can be accompanied to their assessment by a “companion”, who will be allowed to contribute evidence.
And every claimant who gives at least one day’s notice will be entitled to have their assessment audio-recorded.
The contracts also state that only occupational therapists, nurses, physiotherapists and doctors will be able to carry out assessments, while paramedics will only be allowed to carry out PIP assessments, and only “doctors or physiotherapists” who have been “trained to write clerical reports” will be able to carry out WCAs in a claimant’s home.
All four contractors have also had to promise not to do anything that “embarrasses” DWP* or brings it into “disrepute” by “engaging in any act or omission which is reasonably likely to diminish the trust that the public places” in the department.
They have also all had to agree to act with the “highest standards of ethical behaviour and professionalism”, and with “respect and integrity” when it comes to transparency, while contractors and their sub-contractors must sign up to DWP’s Disability Confident disability employment scheme**.
In every year of their contracts, the companies will have to increase the number of disabled people they employ on those contracts, and increase the proportion of disabled people working on the contracts.
The successful bidders were Maximus in northern England and Scotland***; Capita in the Midlands and Wales; Serco in south-west England; Ingeus UK in London, south-east England and East Anglia; and Capita in Northern Ireland.
All the companies – except for Capita in Northern Ireland – will also be relying on “key sub-contractors” to deliver the assessments.
*Or the Department for Communities, in Northern Ireland
**All four main contractors have signed up to the scheme
***The Scottish government will continue to take responsibility for adult disability payment and child disability payment, its replacements for PIP and disability living allowance
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