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Opinion: DWP should take long hard look at disabled benefits fiasco

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Opinion: DWP should take long hard look at disabled benefits fiasco

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Central Government and also in Bill Payments, Housing, Local Government

Opinion: DWP should take long hard look at disabled benefits fiasco Opinion: DWP should take long hard look at disabled benefits fiasco

By Margaret Hodge MP, Chair of the Committee of Public Accounts

The implementation of Personal Independence Payment has been nothing short of a fiasco. The Department of Work and Pensions has let down some of the most vulnerable people in our society, many of whom have had to wait more than six months for their claims to be decided.

The Department’s failure to pilot the scheme meant that the most basic assumptions, such as how long assessments would take and how many would require face-to-face consultations, had not been fully tested and proved to be wrong. This resulted in significant delays, a backlog of claims and unnecessary distress for claimants who have been unable to access the support they need to live, and in some cases work, independently.

The personal stories we heard were shocking. We heard evidence of a claimant requiring hospital intervention as a result of the stress caused by the delays suffered, and another claimant who was unable to afford the specific diet required for diabetes and gastric problems while waiting for a decision.

By October 2013, the Department had only made 16% of the decisions it had expected to have made by that time. What was particularly alarming was that terminally ill people were having to wait on average 28 days for a decision, 180% longer than expected.

Some claimants have been forced to turn to food banks, loans and charitable donations to support the extra costs of living associated with their disability.

The standard of service provided by the Department and its contractors has been unacceptable. Claimants have experienced difficulties in arranging appointments – and assessors have cancelled home visits at the last minute and have failed to turn up when claimants have travelled to assessment centres. Four in 10 claimants in Atos areas have had to travel over an hour to be assessed, a far cry from its promise that between 75% and 90% of claimants would travel less than 30 minutes to an assessment centre.

We are concerned that Atos appears to have included incorrect and potentially misleading information in its bid for the contract. Atos stated in its tender document that it had “contractual agreements” in place with a national network of 56 NHS hospitals, 25 private hospitals and over 650 physiotherapy practices to provide assessments. This turned out not to be true.

The Department should challenge claims made in bids, so that it can demonstrate it has not relied on inaccurate or exaggerated information when awarding contracts.

We would have expected the Department to have exercised particular caution in letting this contact, given the poor performance of Atos on Work Capability Assessments. The Department must take into account previous performance on similar work when running a procurement.

The process has also proved to be inaccessible and cumbersome for claimants, increasing the risk of delays and incorrect decisions.

The Department urgently needs to get this Scheme up to scratch and make sure some of our most vulnerable citizens are protected when going through this process. What we’ve witnessed is a rushed, wholly unacceptable job, and the Department should take a long hard look at what went wrong.

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