A nurse working for one of the two outsourcing giants assessing disabled people for the new personal independence payment (PIP) has told how its testing programme has been hit by huge delays, IT problems… and a staff rebellion.
The whistleblower, Laura*, has told Disability News Service (DNS) that assessments she completed in September on behalf of Capita have still not been submitted to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for a decision on PIP eligibility.
Laura said: “I don’t like the idea that people I saw in September still haven’t got a decision.
“I feel so sorry for the claimants. They are lovely people in genuine need. They must be tearing their hair out.”
Meanwhile, a group of experienced Capita assessors have submitted a “grievance” to managers about the way the programme is being run, Laura claimed, and late last month met with Dr Stephen Duckworth, the disabled executive who leads on the PIP assessment for Capita.
Although DNS has not been able to confirm that the whistleblower is a genuine Capita employee, much of the information she provided has been confirmed by the company.
Some of it mirrors concerns about the assessment work being carried out by the other contractor, Atos Healthcare, but her claims suggest Capita may even be experiencing greater problems and delays than Atos.
Atos is carrying out assessments in London, the south and east of England, as well as the north of England and Scotland, while Capita is assessing claimants across Wales and the Midlands, and will eventually assess claimants in Northern Ireland.
Capita was reportedly so concerned about the delays to its assessment programme that it told staff it was bringing in three trouble-shooters from another part of the company.
Like the majority of assessors working for Capita, Laura carries out assessments in people’s homes, travelling by car from one assessment to another.
She said: “After two weeks training you are home-based and let loose to do these assessments. There is very little support, and they are very badly organised.
“The planning department – the people who organise the appointments – is under-resourced, and everybody says that the way they plan the visits is very inefficient.
“There is a lot of dissatisfaction among assessors. They want to do a good job but they are encountering a lot of problems.”
Among other claims, Laura said that Capita originally employed just one doctor to review all of the assessment reports individually before passing them to DWP, leading to a huge backlog.
Capita then began to train new auditors, but the advice they have been giving assessors after auditing their reports has often proved “inconsistent” and confusing.
She was also told by new recruits that – at the beginning of their training course – they were told to inform claimants to expect a PIP decision within 30 days of their assessment. By the end of the two-week course, they were being told only to inform claimants to expect a result “in due course”.
Laura said: “I don’t think it was set up well in the first place. It is common sense that one doctor could not deal with all the reports.”
She said delays were being compounded by IT problems, because every time an assessor experienced a glitch with their secure laptop, it had to be taken to Capita’s Birmingham “hub” to be repaired, as a fault with the security system meant it could not be repaired remotely.
She added: “I think Capita mean well, but the lack of organisation must be resulting in hardship for claimants because of the length of time it is taking.”
Capita did not want to comment on Laura’s particular claims, but a spokeswoman said: “PIP is an entirely new benefit and therefore requires a new way of assessing claimants’ requirements.”
She said that DWP’s “audit criteria” for PIP had been subject to “detailed scrutiny” so as to ensure that “exceptionally high standards are reached in every assessment”, which meant that “assessments due to be carried out in these initial stages are taking much longer than originally expected”.
She added: “Capita is working closely with DWP to meet the new rigorous audit criteria by investing in further training, coaching and peer reviews for existing assessors and auditors.
“We are also employing more health professionals and more call centre staff. Any delays experienced by claimants will not affect the date from which they are paid.”
When asked if Capita would like to comment on any of Laura’s particular claims, she said: “Capita does not comment on speculation or rumours.”
A DWP spokesman also declined to comment on Laura’s particular claims.
But this week DWP also admitted that there were delays to the PIP claiming process, particularly because assessments were taking longer than expected.
*DNS has changed some of Laura’s personal details in order to protect her identity
5 December 2013