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Government must act on disability benefit decision-making and Atos medical assessment contracts

8 February 2013

Citizens Advice responds to damning Public Accounts Committee report on DWP management of its contract with Atos to carry out controversial work capability assessments, the medical tests used in deciding fitness for work.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“The Public Accounts Committee is absolutely right in saying the way the government manages its contract with Atos must change and DWP decision making must improve. We are seeing a lot of very sick and seriously disabled people being wrongly denied ESA and suffering enormous additional stress and hardship at a time when they most need support.

“Wrong decisions have a human cost and a cost to the tax payer. Getting medical assessments right first time is absolutely essential to ensuring that seriously ill and disabled people get the support they are entitled to, and cutting the number of unnecessary appeals. The huge volume of unnecessary appeals is wasting millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money and risks undermining the Government's welfare reform programme.

“Private companies on government contracts must be accountable to the public and face penalties for poor performance. We have long said that Atos should face a fine for every inaccurate report that they produce. The government has already awarded Atos the lion’s share of the contracts to carry out medical assessments for the new Personal Independence Payment (PIP), the benefit due to replace disability living allowance (DLA) later this year. This makes it all the more urgent that regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of medical reports is put in place before medical assessments and reports are given a central role in deciding who is entitled to PIP.”

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors

  1. Last year (2012) CAB advisers in England and Wales helped people with 430,000 problems about Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), the benefit paid to people too sick or disabled to work - up 67% on the previous year.
  2. An unprecedented 90,000 of these enquiries specifically concerned appeals.  A further 70,000 were about the controversial Work Capability Assessments (WCA)  carried out by Atos and used to decide if people are fit for work.
  3. CAB advisers helped with almost 2.4 million benefit problems of all kinds in 2012. Employment Support Allowance generated more enquiries than any other benefit at 18% of all benefit enquiries.
  4. Official government figures show the cost of appeals from 2009/10-2011/12 to be £60 million. DWP figures show 38 per cent of appeals against an ESA decision are successful and CAB advisers estimate the success rate at appeal where someone receives specialist CAB advice and is represented is around 80 per cent.
  5. The Citizens Advice service comprises a network of local bureaux, all of which are independent charities, and national charity Citizens Advice. Together we help people resolve their money, legal and other problems by providing information and advice and by influencing policymakers. For more information in England and Wales see www.citizensadvice.org.uk
  6. The advice provided by the Citizens Advice service is free, independent, confidential, and impartial, and available to everyone regardless of race, gender, disability, sexual orientation, religion, age or nationality. For online advice and information see www.adviceguide.org.uk  
  7. Citizens Advice Bureaux in England and Wales advised 2.1 million clients on 6.9 million problems from April 2011 to March 2012. For full 2011/2012 service statistics see: www.citizensadvice.org.uk/press_statistics
  8. Out of 22 national charities, the Citizens Advice service is ranked by the general public as being the most helpful, approachable, professional, informative, effective / cost effective, reputable and accountable (nfpSynergy’s Brand Attributes survey, May 2010).
  9. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.