Atos and Capita miss targets for 'acceptable' £700 million PIP assessments

24 April 2018 6 min. read

Outsourcers Atos and Capita have come under fire for the reported mishandling of as many as a third of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments they carried out. The firms received a raise for their efforts last year, raking in more than £250 million each for the controversial disability welfare checks, despite Parliament’s Work and Pensions Committee recently suggesting vulnerable people had been “pushed to the brink of destitution” by the contractors’ handling of the scheme.

Private firms carrying out controversial disability assessments received a £40 million increase in funding last year, despite widespread concerns with the system. According to figures initially revealed by The Independent, a freedom of information request found the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had paid almost £255 million over 2017 to Independent Assessment Services (formerly known as Atos Healthcare) and Capita, for the duo to perform Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments. Independent Assessment Services rebranded from Atos Healthcare in 2017 – however it is still part of Atos, leading a number of commentators to suggest the firm was trying to distance itself from bad press relating to its handling of the disability assessments.

The total payout for Atos and Capita saw a 19% increase on 2016’s figures, as the DWP spent its highest amount on PIP since its launch in 2013. The figures came after The Press Association revealed in 2017 that Atos and Capita were set to be paid more than £700 million for their five-year contracts – against an original estimate of £512 million – prompting accusations that the DWP were “rewarding failure.”

Atos and Capita miss targets for 'acceptable' £700 million PIP assessments

Now, the pressure mounting against the two professional services firms has been further ratcheted up with the revelation that almost a third of assessments for the PIP disability benefit require amendments, while an average of 5% do not meet the departmental standards required of them. According to figures handed to MPs by the Government, official figures state that 95% of reports are “acceptable”, which is in itself a failure, as Atos and Capita have a shared target for 3% or fewer of their reports to be ranked “unacceptable” – a target they have never met. Thousands more “acceptable” reports still had to be altered or see staff prompted to up their efforts for future reports.

Exemplifying this, in the reported data, Atos admitted that 5% of its reports were "unacceptable" between March and December 2017 – while a further 10% were "acceptable with amendments", and 15% were described as “acceptable with feedback", prompting the assessor to consider their conduct as there was "learning required" for future assessments. This meant that only 70% of Atos’ reports were deemed acceptable without any changes or feedback.

Over the same period, 66% of Capita reports were graded acceptable without any amendments or feedback. The beleaguered outsourcer – which recently issued a shock profit warning, drawing comparisons with collapsed firm Carillion – saw a larger 6% of its reports found to be unacceptable, and a further 15% were acceptable with amendments and 13% had learning required.

The figures added traction to claims that the use of outsourcers in the implementation of PIP was also costing tax payers in terms of avoidable court cases. 68% of individuals who appeal against negative assessments from Capita and Atos are presently winning their cases. Meanwhile, the needless process may be adding strain to other public services, including the NHS, as a previous report by more than 80 organisations found 79% of respondents said their assessments for PIP had made their health worse due to stress or anxiety, while more than a third of those who saw funding cut said they were struggling to pay for food, rent and bills. Further to this, a small number also said the assessment process was so stressful it had caused them to have suicidal thoughts.

Acceptable with amendments

An Atos spokesperson commented, “Around 95% of our assessments are deemed to have achieved the required acceptable quality standards according to the published DWP criteria.”

However, while the outsourcers themselves are keen to stress that “acceptable with amendments” still means a report is acceptable, Members of Parliament have been far less forgiving of the figures. Frank Field, Chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, rebuked, “These figures won’t be ‘acceptable’ at all to vulnerable claimants who have had cuts to their income – and been pushed to the brink of destitution.”

A DWP spokesperson added, “We expect the highest standards from our assessment providers, and we work closely with them to ensure that all claimants receive objective, accurate and high quality assessments.”

The information commissioner has ordered the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to release documents that are likely to expose the widespread failings of two of its disability benefit assessment contractors.

The DWP had been attempting to suppress the information from being published, after receiving a Freedom of Information Act request from campaigner John Slater in December 2016. However, after Britain’s information commissioner ordered the Government to release its documents pertaining to its disability benefit assessment contractors, at the beginning of 2018, the information was handed to Field’s committee in April.

The PIP contracts began in 2012, with service delivery starting from 2013. There are three separate contracts or “lots”, covering different parts of the country. Lot 2, held by Capita, covers Wales and the Midlands, comprising approximately 23% of assessments. Lots 1 and 3, held by Atos, cover the rest of England and Scotland. The PIP contracts were initially due to finish in 2018, however, they also allowed for the possibility of contract extension of up to two years, something exercised by the government in spite of growing criticism for Atos and Capita’s performance in the role. The contracts are now due to finish in mid-2019.