A report by the public accounts commitment has blamed the DWP’s handling of disability benefit tests for creating “misery and hardship” for some claimants.
The committee questioned the accuracy of assessments, with nearly 40% of appeals proving successful in overturning the conclusions of fitness tests. It also expressed concern that the “standardised ‘tick-box’ approach” did not make provision for a range of mental health conditions.
Committee Chair, Margaret Hodge, said:
“The one size fits all approach fails to account adequately for mental health conditions or those which are rare or fluctuating. While the department has started to improve, the process is still too inflexible and too often is so stressful for applicants that their health simply gets worse.”
Assessment provider Atos Healthcare has also been heavily criticised in the past, but Hodge said that “most of the problems lie firmly within the DWP.”
The relationship between DWP and Atos has been called into question, and the committee said that the department’s inability to create a competitive market for suppliers meant that Atos – which was paid £112m for carrying out 738,000 assessments in 2011/12 – was the “near monopoly provider”.
“The department is too often just accepting what Atos tells it.
“It seems reluctant to challenge the contractor. It has failed to withhold payment for poor performance and rarely checked that it is being correctly charged.”
In response, Employment Minister, Mark Hoban, said:
“This report completely fails to recognise the considerable improvements we have made to the Work Capability Assessment since coming to power in 2010, having inherited a system from the last Government that was not fit for purpose.”