Fresh concerns have been raised about recruitment at one of the outsourcing companies delivering assessments for the government’s new disability benefit, after it sent out a “very urgent” request for 90 more staff.
Only two months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported how delivery of the personal independence payment (PIP) appeared to have been plunged back into crisis after Capita reception staff were sent scripts telling them how to explain to benefit claimants why their appointments had been cancelled.
Because of a shortage of assessors, Capita was forced to recruit 90 more healthcare professionals, just five months after making an estimated 80 of its 400 assessors redundant.
Those redundancies followed a huge recruitment drive last summer to cope with PIP delays and backlogs, tempting many staff from stable jobs in the NHS with a promise of better conditions and long-term work.
The company said in June that its latest recruitment push was part of a regular review of its “resourcing plans”, and that it was “looking at the number of assessors required to support the introduction of the changes that are expected later this year”.
Last month, government figures secured by DNS showed that claimants in areas managed by Atos were six times more likely to wait longer than 20 weeks for a PIP decision than in those parts of the country managed by Capita.
Despite those figures, Capita has now launched yet another recruitment drive to find healthcare staff who can assess claimants’ eligibility for PIP, which is replacing working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
The new recruitment drive will add to concerns about the number of nurses, doctors and other healthcare professionals being tempted away from the NHS to work for Capita, as well as Atos and Maximus, the other outsourcing companies assessing disability benefit claimants.
In an email seen by DNS, a Capita recruitment executive says the company is looking for nurses, occupational therapists, physiotherapists and paramedics “who can join us ASAP” in “VERY urgent roles”.
When asked why Capita needed to recruit another 90 assessors in “very urgent roles” so soon after the last recruitment drive, a Capita spokesman said: “We continually review our service to ensure we have the right level of people in place to meet the requirements of the Department for Work and Pensions and claimants.
“The department’s recent official statistics reflect the good continued progress Capita is making to improve claimant waiting times.
“The current recruitment programme reflects our focus on preparing for the full roll out of PIP later this year.”
This full rollout of PIP actually began last month, with the Department for Work and Pensions beginning to invite claimants who currently have a long-term or indefinite award to be reassessed for PIP – including those living in two postcode areas managed by Capita – a process which is expected to last about two years.
DNS first began reporting on delays and backlogs in the PIP system in late 2013. In January, one disabled woman described how she had been forced to wait more than 14 months to be assessed.
By the end of March 2015, according to figures published in May, nearly 23,000 disabled people had been waiting longer than 20 weeks for their new PIP claims to be decided. Of those 23,000, more than 3,000 had been waiting longer than a year.