The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has still not decided which companies will be paid a share of £2.8 billion to carry out health and disability benefit assessments, nearly two years after it first published information about the contracts.
The award of the five-year contracts – spread across five areas of the UK – could see discredited outsourcing giants like Atos, Capita and Maximus carrying out both work capability assessments (WCAs) and personal independence payment (PIP) assessments*.
The new system of carrying out assessments is supposed to go live in August, just seven months away.
The only information DWP has released about progress in awarding the contracts is that its civil servants are still evaluating rival tenders.
DWP first published information about the process in April 2021 in a “prior information notice”, but its freedom of information team has now told Disability News Service (DNS) that the process of awarding the contracts is “at the evaluation/moderation stage (PDF)”.
When they are awarded, the contracts will see a single supplier providing both WCAs and PIP assessments in each of the five areas.
This could mean Atos once again carrying out WCAs, eight years after it withdrew from the contract following years of negative publicity and links between its actions and the deaths of disabled claimants.
Currently, WCAs are carried out by Maximus, while PIP assessments are carried out by Atos and Capita.
All three providers have been closely linked to the deaths of claimants over the last decade.
Their failings have been exposed through research and direct action by grassroots groups of disabled people, inquiries by parliamentary committees, concerns raised by individual MPs, the release of government statistics, television documentaries, and a lengthy investigation into the PIP assessment practices of Atos and Capita by DNS.
Atos, Maximus and Capita have previously declined to say if they are bidding for any of the contracts.
DWP’s 2021 green paper Shaping Future Support discussed plans to create what it called an “integrated health assessment service”, which would bring the two assessments onto a single digital system.
The prior information notice said the plan to “provide functional health assessments through a single supplier in each geographical lot” was part of DWP’s “long term plans” to develop an integrated health assessment service.
But there have been concerns that moving to a single assessment supplier in each part of the country could make it easier for ministers to merge PIP with out-of-work disability benefits (employment and support allowance, and the disability-related aspects of universal credit), a possibility raised in the green paper.
A DWP spokesperson declined to say why the process was taking so long, and whether ministers were concerned that the delay would mean it would not be able to start the new assessment system in August as planned.
Meanwhile, DWP has announced details of when payments to help with the cost-of-living crisis will be made to benefit claimants through 2023 and into spring 2024.
There will be a total of £900 for those on means-tested benefits, paid in three instalments of about £300 each in spring 2023, autumn 2023 and spring 2024; a £300 pensioner payment in winter 2023-24; and a £150 payment for those on disability benefits this summer.
Those eligible will be paid automatically, with no need to apply for the payments.
*The Scottish government will continue to take responsibility for its replacement for PIP, adult disability payment
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