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Disability Rights Get rid of deceitful benefits firms

Disabled people fear privateers carrying out assessments for their benefits claims are being ‘actively untruthful’

PEOPLE with disabilities do not trust outsourcing companies that deal with their benefit claims as they fear assessors are “actively deceitful,” MPs warn the government in a report published today.

The Commons work and pensions committee called on ministers to take assessments back in-house as there was evidence that the companies carrying out work capability assessments —  Atos, Capita and Maximus — had produced reports “riddled with errors and omissions.”

Their contracts come up for renewal in 2019 and 2020.

The “low bar” for standards set by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been “universally missed,” they added.

The DWP has spent “hundreds of millions on pounds” of taxpayers’ money on checking and defending decisions since 2013, the report by the cross-party committee says.

Some 290,000 rejected claims for personal independence payments (PIP) or employment and support allowance (ESA) have been granted on appeal since 2013 — 6 per cent of all those assessed.

Figures obtained by the Press Association revealed that the DWP has spent £108.1 million on direct staffing costs for ESA and PIP appeals since October 2015.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) told the Star that didn’t cover the £1.6 billion paid over three years to US privateer Maximus and £416m to Atos and Capita.

The committee received an “unprecedented” number of responses from PIP and ESA claimants. Almost 4,000 people detailed “shocking” and “credible” accounts of the system’s failures.

A recurrent complaint was that claimants did not believe the companies’ non-specialist assessors could be trusted to record evidence of their conditions accurately.

Assessors were viewed as “at best lacking in competence and at worst actively deceitful.”

Many claimants reported experiencing “a great deal of anxiety and other deleterious health impacts.”

One claimant was said in her assessment report to walk her dog, despite not owning one and being barely able to walk at all.

Another, who remained in bed throughout her interview at home, was reported to have risen from a chair “without any difficulty” even though the only chair in the room was the one the assessor was sitting in.

A DWP spokesman claimed that the majority of ESA and PIP claimants were “happy with their overall [assessment] experience.”

But committee chairman Frank Field said shortcomings in the system were causing “untenable human costs to claimants and financial costs to the public purse.”

He said: “No-one should have any doubt the process needs urgent change.”

DPAC co-founder Linda Burnip also called for the assessments to be done by DWP.

She told the Morning Star: “It seems to have taken the work and pensions committee a long time to become aware of just how atrocious these assessments carried out by odious corporations being paid vast amounts of taxpayers’ money really are.

“Hopefully now it is aware of the gross inadequacies of the processes something will be done to remove the contracts from these firms.”

Deafblind charity Sense deputy chief executive Richard Kramer urged the DWP to implement the report’s recommendations and to allow people with hearing impairments to apply for PIP and ESA.

He added: “We need a system that engages and supports disabled people rather than a system that undermines them.”

The MPs also recommended that all face-to-face assessments should be recorded and a copy sent to the claimant along with the assessor’s report, not just the notification of the DWP decision.

Mr Field said it “beggars belief” that assessments were not already routinely recorded.

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