Atos Quits “Fit-to-Work” Contract Early
Atos Healthcare works on behalf of the government, and its job is to determine whether or not a disability claimant is actually fit to work, or will be in the future. Although there is no direct evidence, the company is thought to be responsible for forcing some of these claimants into work when they were not well enough, through their “fit-to-work” assessments.
When a person wants to apply for Employment and Support Allowance, they need to have a Work Capability Assessment (WCA) which is meant to determine how their disability or illness might affect their ability to work. Atos held the £100-million-a-year, five-year-long contract to carry out these assessments.
But the DWP (Department for Work and Pensions) found issues with Atos’ decisions about claimants, as well as its written reports of the assessments and the waiting times for appointments to be available and results to come through. This was last summer, and Atos was asked to clean up its act, and the company said improvements would be made.
Instead of the promised changes, the DWP found in February that the standards had slipped even further.
Of the 600,000 appeals made in the courts about Work Capability Assessments (WCA), around 40% of decisions are overturned. With expert counsel, this amount can be even higher, showing that Atos were not assessing the claimants to the best of its ability.
Atos’ contract is not due to end until August of next year, but now the company has announced it will pay to leave the contract early – hopefully meaning the end of unfair assessment and appraisal. The company will still be carrying out the tests in Northern Ireland, though, but that will be under a different contract.
Now the DWP is looking for a different provider, to undertake the WCAs to start early next year, a company that will make fair and just decisions that are not “ridiculously harsh and extremely unfair” as described by the disability campaigners fighting against Atos. The DWP’s long-term plan involves taking on multiple companies to carry out the surveys, but that’s a long way off yet.
Minister of State for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP, said that Atos will not be receiving any kind of settlement for breaking the contract early. “I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract,” Mr Penning stated. He added that Atos had instead paid a “substantial” monetary settlement to the DWP.
“I doubt there is a single disabled person who will be sorry to hear that Atos will no longer be running the fit-for-work assessments,” said disability charity Scope’s Chief Executive Richard Hawkes. “[The tests] should make sure disabled people get the specialist, tailored and flexible support they need to find and keep a job.” And with a new company taking the reins, hopefully they will receive just that.