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Citizens Advice calls for financial penalties on Atos

17 August 2012

"We wouldn't allow a private contractor to let us down on the Olympics, we can't allow one to let down disabled people.” – Gillian Guy, Citizens Advice CEO

Citizens Advice today renewed its call for the government to impose financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate work capability assessment report that they produce.

The call follows National Audit Office criticism of the Department for Work and Pensions’ failure to penalise Atos – the private company with whom it has a contract to carry out ‘fitness for work’ medical assessments – for under-performance.

Citizens Advice Chief Executive Gillian Guy said:

“We wouldn't allow a private contractor to let us down on the Olympics, we can't allow one to let down disabled people. Mistakes by Atos 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.

“Private companies on government contracts must be accountable to the public. Government should act now to put in place regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of work capability assessment (WCA) reports and look at imposing financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate report that they produce.”

CAB advisers helped with more than 97,000 ESA problems in the three months January to March 2012 - up 71 per cent compared with the same quarter last year, making ESA the fastest growing advice issue seen in bureaux.

In the same three month period, bureaux recorded an 82 per cent increase in advice about appeals against ESA decisions. Over a quarter of all advice given by bureaux about ESA concerns appeals. Latest official DWP figures say 32 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.

Citizens Advice

Notes to editors

  1. Earlier this year, Citizens Advice published research indicating that many seriously ill and disabled people are being wrongly denied benefits because of serious inaccuracies in an unacceptably high number of medical assessment reports used to decide who qualifies for ESA. Right first time? An indicative study of the accuracy of work capability assessment reports is available at citizensadvice.org.uk/right_first_time
  2. 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 citizensadvice.org.uk
  3. 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 adviceguide.org.uk
  4. 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: citizensadvice.org.uk/press_statistics
  5. 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).
  6. Most Citizens Advice service staff are trained volunteers, working at around 3,300 service outlets across England and Wales.