The Government recently awarded contracts worth hundreds of millions of pounds to two private sector companies, ATOS and Capita, to reassess disabled people for a disability benefit they need to help with the essential higher costs of living (Personal Independence Payment, or PIP).
ATOS already conducts face to face assessments for people accessing Employment and Support Allowance (the benefit for disabled people out of work), but continues to draw intense criticism due to the high rate of inaccurate decisions, successful appeal rates (40%) and waste of restricted resources. Appeals to ESA decisions cost over £26 million in 2010/11.
The Disability Benefits Consortium, a coalition of charities representing hundreds of thousands of disabled people, is concerned that many disabled people will be stressed and fearful of the new process – as well as mistrustful given the overarching policy aim of reducing expenditure. DWP plans show that 500,000 fewer disabled people will be eligible for support.
The consortium is calling on ATOS and Capita to learn lessons from the Work Capability Assessment, used to assess people for ESA since 2008, and sign up to ten pledges that will help alleviate concerns, establish a greater trust in the new system and deliver a process that is as fair as possible under Government plans.
PIP assessment provider pledges
- We will make sure that a full range of communications methods are available, that our staff are trained in how to use them, and that individuals only have to tell us once what their accessibility and/or communications requirements are.
- We will proactively gather all relevant written evidence, and will only call claimants in for a face to face assessment when a decision cannot be reached on the basis of written evidence.
- We will only reassess claimants when a change in circumstances is likely, to ensure that claimants are not reassessed at inappropriate frequencies.
- We will ensure that the assessment venue is accessible and appropriate for a full range of disabled people, that claimants are informed of their right to a home visit and aware they can bring a friend, family member, or advocate to their assessment.
- We will train our assessors to understand a wide range of impairments and conditions, and to recognise the impact of multiple and complex conditions. Where possible we will match claimants with assessors who have the most appropriate expertise.
- We will hold assessors to account for their decisions, will have an accessible complaints procedure in place, and will seek claimant feedback to monitor performance.
- Our assessors will conduct interviews in a sensitive and culturally appropriate manner, and will explore how individuals complete activities.
- Our assessors will share written reports and any observational evidence they record with claimants, providing them with an opportunity to correct any inaccuracies as early as possible.
- We will set up procedures to proactively gather feedback on the assessment process from disabled people and their representative organisations, and will be open with the findings from these.
- Guidance for assessors will be regularly updated and developed using input from relevant experts, disabled people and their representative organisations.