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Disabled and taxpayers paying too high a price for mistakes in fit-for-work test

20 November 2012

Citizens Advice responds to Harrington’s Work Capability Assessment review

Commenting on the publication of Professor Malcolm Harrington’s third independent review of the Work Capability Assessment, Gillian Guy, Chief Executive at national charity Citizens Advice said:

“Disabled people and taxpayers are still paying far too high a price for mistakes made in benefit assessments of who is fit for work. Inaccurate medical assessments are creating huge difficulties for our clients, as well as potentially undermining the government’s welfare reform programme.

“This review was an opportunity to tackle persistent problems with the current fit-for-work test which have led to thousands of sick and disabled people suffering needless hardship and distress over many months. But while many of Professor Harrington’s recommendations are welcome, they don’t go nearly far enough to ensure that in future decisions will be right first time.

“Tightening Atos’ performance targets will help, but what we really need is regular, independent monitoring of the accuracy of work capability assessment reports – as Professor Harrington himself recommended last year – and financial penalties on Atos for every inaccurate report that they produce.

“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 and costly appeals.

“It is incredible that it is still not standard procedure for Atos to collect medical evidence from the healthcare professional who knows the claimant best.  Professor Harrington is right to expect  DWP decision makers to request medical evidence or have to justify in writing why they do not, but  they also need to give proper weight to this evidence. As things stand they are all too often simply rubber stamping Atos assessments.

“All in all there is still a long way to go before we can be confident that decisions on fitness for work are right first time.”

In the last quarter (1 July - 30 September 2012) CAB advisers in England and Wales saw over 100,000 enquiries about ESA – up 76 per cent on the same period last year. Over 21,000 of these related to appeals - up 83 per cent on the same quarter last year.

Notes to editors

  1. Citizens Advice has been monitoring the introduction of the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) and the whole process for claiming Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), publishing three reports into the operation of ESA – Limited capability, published in November 2009, which covered the administration of the benefit, Not working, published in March 2010, which looked at the assessment process (the Work Capability Assessment) and Right first time?, published in January 2012, which investigated the accuracy of WCA reports. Citizens Advice has given evidence to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on this issue, and submitted evidence to both previous Independent Reviews of the Work Capability Assessment.
  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
  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
  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:
  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 3,500 service outlets across England and Wales.