More than a third of disability assessment reports completed by a government contractor have been found to be significantly flawed, according to secret government files.
The proportion of substandard personal independence payment (PIP) reports completed by outsourcing giant Capita has risen to 37 per cent in the two years since 2016, when nearly 33 per cent of reports were found to be defective.
The figures, secured from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) under the Freedom of Information Act by campaigner John Slater, are likely to add fuel to concerns about Capita’s performance in delivering the contract.
And they are also likely to strengthen calls for DWP to be declared “not fit for purpose” and institutionally disablist, as demanded by the Justice for Jodey Whiting parliamentary petition*.
The figures show the results of government audits of nearly 6,000 assessment reports carried out by Capita during 2018.
They show that nearly four per cent of the reports (3.92 per cent) were of such poor quality that they were categorised as “unacceptable”.
With another 17 per cent of assessments, DWP concluded the report was so flawed that there was “learning required” by the healthcare professional who wrote it, although the report was of an “acceptable” standard.
And in a further 16 per cent of cases, the report needed to be amended because of even more serious flaws, although again the report was still said to be of an “acceptable” standard.
In all, nearly 37 per cent of assessment reports audited during 2018 were found to be of an unacceptable standard, to need changes, or demonstrated that the assessor had failed to carry out their role properly.
The newly-released data provides details of the “management information” (MI) that Capita and fellow outsourcing giant Atos are contractually obliged to provide every month to DWP, so it can check on their performance and take action when they need to improve.
It was obtained as part of Slater’s continuing efforts to secure information from DWP that he believes will expose the widespread failings of Capita and Atos, and DWP’s failure to manage the contracts properly.
He is still appealing against DWP’s failure to release data showing the results of audits of Atos assessment reports.
The data that was released raises continuing and multiple concerns about the way the two private sector companies are carrying out their contractual duties.
It also shows that the many reports of dishonest and distressing assessment experiences by individual disabled people are not isolated occurrences.
One of the concerns highlighted by the data is the proportion of assessments cleared by Capita within 40 days, which nearly fell as low as 50 per cent at one stage during 2018.
Another concern is over the number of Atos and Capita healthcare professionals who have been the subject of multiple complaints within a three-month period.
Last year, DNS revealed that 161 assessors working for Atos and 19 Capita assessors had had at least four complaints made against them in a three-month period in 2016.
But the figures for 2018 show that, although the number of Atos assessors who faced multiple complaints fell from 161 to 129, the number of Capita assessors who were subjected to at least four complaints in just three months leapt from 19 to 84 between 2016 and 2018.
Capita carried out about 220,000 face-to-face assessments in 2018, compared with more than 730,000 by Atos.
Another key concern is that Capita is still requesting vital further evidence from GPs and social workers in less than 30 per cent of assessments.
This is an improvement on the figures from 2016, when at one stage, in June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims (less than two per cent of cases).
But DWP documents drawn up in May 2012, before the award of the contracts to deliver PIP assessments, show the department expected its contractors would need to request further evidence (also known as further medical evidence) in about half of all cases (50 per cent).
A Capita spokesperson refused to say if the data obtained by Slater showed there were still serious concerns about its performance, and that this was deteriorating.
She also refused to comment on the audit results, or explain why they had worsened in the last two years.
And she refused to explain why so many assessors had been subjected to multiple complaints within a three-month period, and why that number had increased so sharply in the last two years.
But she said in a statement: “Capita is the first PIP provider to consistently meet the ambitious quality targets set by the DWP and we are committed to continually delivering against this target. On average, cases are completed within 38 days.
“We are focused on delivering the best service to individuals coming through the assessment process.
“This is evidenced in our independent monthly satisfaction rating from customers, which in 2018 was more than 95 per cent.”
An Atos** spokesperson refused to comment on the number of its assessors subject to multiple complaints.
But he said in a statement: “As part of our commitment to provide a high quality service we have invested in our continuous professional development training for all health professionals.”
A DWP spokesperson refused to say if the figures showed there were still serious concerns about its management of the PIP contracts and the performance of the two companies.
She also refused to say if DWP was concerned by the Capita audit results and the number of Atos and Capita assessors subjected to multiple complaints within three-month periods.
She refused to say why DWP had not released the Atos audit results to John Slater.
And she refused to say if DWP had taken any action to address these concerns.
But she said in a statement: “We are committed to ensuring that the PIP assessment providers give our claimants the highest quality service.
“That’s why we set the providers challenging targets and monitor their performance closely, and the latest figures show that complaints make up just one per cent of all the assessments carried out.”
Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd today (Thursday) announced an in-depth review of how terminally-ill people and those with “severe conditions” are treated by the benefits system.
The announcement came days after a report compiled by the charity Marie Curie and published by the all party parliamentary group for terminal illness saw people with terminal illness calling on ministers to end the “arbitrary and outdated” rules that force many of them through a “demeaning” and “insensitive” benefit assessment process.
*Sign the Jodey Whiting petition here. If you sign the petition, please note you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
**Atos delivers its PIP assessment contracts through Independent Assessment Services, a trading name of Atos IT Services UK
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