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Weaknesses found in 'fit-to-work' contract

17th August 2012

An audit has indicated that there are problems in a contract covering medical assessments designed to decide whether people claiming sickness benefits are fit to work.

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The National Audit Office has found weaknesses in the contract between the government and the French firm Atos, the private firm paid to carry out fit-to-work medical assessments.

The auditor criticised the Department for Work and Pensions for failing to penalise Atos for under-performance and not setting the company “sufficiently challenging” targets.

Atos was paid more than £112m in the last financial year to carry out about 738,000 face-to-face medical tests on benefit claimants with the DWP using the test results to decide whether people were fit to work or eligible for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

But a high number of the decisions have been shown as being wrong with almost 40% of appeals upheld at tribunals.

However, the DWP suggested the contract had changed considerably since it was signed by the Labour government and has remained under constant review.

“In 2010, the Work Capability Assessment was not working properly and since then we've substantially improved it,” said a DWP spokesman. “It is a complicated area but we are committed to making it a success to ensure it is both fair and accurate for the user and value for money for the taxpayer.”

Atos maintained it was working closely with the department over the contract in order to fulfil all of its contractual obligations and that it had been flexible within the contract and implemented changes.

 

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