Charities warn work capability assessments are failing
DISABLED and long-term ill benefit claimants experience extremely high levels of stress when undergoing arduous work capability assessments and fear that they are “treated with suspicion,” charities warned the government yesterday.
One man struggling with epilepsy and Asperger’s syndrome was forced to travel 20 miles on public transport for a health and disability assessment and waited an hour at the centre before he was told to return home as it had been doubled-booked, Parliament’s public accounts committee heard.
People were also reported to have travelled up to 70 miles away from where they live due to a shortage of appointments and capacity constraints at assessment centres, added Citizens Advice welfare policy head Rachael Badger.
The group has received 30,000 inquiries over the last year from people worried about the assessments and the paperwork involved in proving that they are in need of employment support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payments (PIP), Ms Badger said.
Claimants also complained that the assessors working for Maximus, Atos and Capita — the private companies contracted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to run the assessments — are “not knowledgeable enough about health” to understand their situations.
Maximus is contracted to carry out ESA assessments. Atos and Capita take on PIP assessments.
Around 60 per cent of appeals against both ESA and PIP assessment results are successful because the quality of assessments are “very mixed,” said Disability Benefits Consortium co-chair Phil Reynolds.
This is because medical evidence is not being recognised, details are not taken seriously, information is not recorded properly and claimants have to pay their GP around £30 for a letter that states their health conditions and the effects on their lives.
This is worst when it comes to mental health and assessors are failing to understand the severity of cases, said mental health charity Mind’s policy campaigns manager Tom Pollard.
Mr Pollard added: “People feel like they are treated with suspicion and, on the whole, they believe the assessments are there to trip them up. It causes a huge amount of anxiety for people.”
The committee meeting discussed a National Audit Office report on the assessments contracted out by the DWP.
The government is estimated to pay £1.6 billion to private companies until 2018 to carry out the flawed assessment regime, according to the report.
But the saving at the end of the period is projected to be less than half a billion.
Maximus took on the contract for ESA assessments last March and claimed it is “anything but complacent” about improving the service within 12 to 18 months since starting, a spokesperson for its Centre for Health and Disability Assessments told the Star.
The company added: “We inherited a case backlog of 550,000 which we have reduced to 110,000 and we have put in place a number of actions to ensure that the quality of our assessments keeps improving.”