The amount of time that nurses and physiotherapists spend carrying out face-to-face disability benefit assessments can vary hugely, depending on where the test takes place, according to analysis of new Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) figures.
Although the figures do not prove that disabled people in some parts of the country are receiving more careful and considered personal independence payment (PIP) assessments than claimants in other areas, they do raise concerns that this could be happening.
And they suggest that there could even be such contrasting experiences for claimants being assessed compared with those in neighbouring towns, cities and counties.
The figures only relate to face-to-face PIP assessments carried out by healthcare professionals working for outsourcing giant Atos, as data is not yet available for those parts of the country covered by DWP’s other PIP contractor, Capita.
And Atos* insisted yesterday (Wednesday) that there was “no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly” and that any variation shown in the figures was not “untoward”.
The figures show that the average time spent on face-to-face PIP assessments in one part of the south-east of England in August 2018 was just 43.5 minutes.
In the same month, the average time spent on face-to-face assessments in another part of the south-east region was 62.6 minutes, more than 40 per cent higher.
In one part of the north-west of England, in June 2018, assessments were taking an average of 47.2 minutes, compared with 63.1 minutes in another part of the north-west.
In January 2018, average face-to-face assessment times in the north-west varied from 49.4 minutes in one area to 64.7 minutes in another.
The figures are likely to be significant because each of them are averages based on hundreds – and sometimes more than 1,000 – assessments carried out in each area every month in 2018.
They are contained within data files secured from DWP under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater.
The files he obtained have previously shown that 37 per cent of disability assessment reports completed by Capita were found to be significantly flawed.
Data released through a parliamentary question later revealed that the proportion of assessment reports completed by Atos that were found to be significantly flawed reached more than 36 per cent last year.
The new analysis of the data files will only add to these concerns about the performance of DWP’s two PIP contractors.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Fluctuations and variations are to be expected in PIP assessment times.
“PIP assessments cover a mix of different types of cases such as new claims and award reviews as well as localised approaches to disability living allowance (DLA) to PIP transitions.”
But Slater said the figures suggested a “postcode lottery” in how “local parts of Atos carry out DLA to PIP transitions (probably the most stressful part of PIP for those on DLA).
“I wonder how much the DWP centre knows about these localised approaches or does it just let them do whatever they want?”
The data files show figures for different areas within seven different regions: south-west England, south-east England, London, east England, north-east England, north-west England and Scotland.
The fluctuations appear to be less severe in London and the south-west and more striking in the south-east and north-west of England.
An Atos spokesperson said: “With the focus rightly on quality there is no pressure on staff to complete assessments quickly.
“A significant factor in the variation of assessment duration is the proportion of home consultations carried out in an area and those carried out in assessment centres.
“Home consultations often take considerably longer to complete than those in an assessment centre.
“The mix of home versus assessment centre consultations is not fixed across the country, with some areas more reliant on home consultations than others.
“Individual claimant circumstances can also be a factor in causing variation at a local level.
“So taken as a whole, significant variation on assessment duration on a case-by-case basis is not uncommon or untoward.”
*Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK
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