Privatised back to work tests still failing claimants and taxpayers

8 January 2016

The government's wholly privatised system of assessing sick and disabled social security claimants is still failing claimants and taxpayers, PCS says in response to an audit report.

The Department for Work and Pensions has not achieved value for money in its management of health and disability assessments for employment and support allowance and personal independence payments, the National Audit Office says.

The union says in only considering the value for money of contract management, not of the government's wider reforms and policies, the NAO has disappointingly missed an opportunity to properly scrutinise the merits of a system that claimants feel is unfairly targeting them.

It adds it is striking and deeply troubling that, 10 years on from the ESA predecessor contract first being let, the DWP still does not appear to be on top of its contract management.

Key findings in the report include:

  • Schemes still suffering from backlogs, delays and poor quality
  • Providers continuing to struggle with hiring and training staff, with knock-on effects on costs and standards
  • DWP not learning from its mistakes, with recent performance showing "it has not tackled – and may even have exacerbated" – problems when setting up recent contracts
  • Contracts failing on the government's own terms by not delivering anywhere near expected savings
  • DWP still not fully introduced an IT tool for providers to record assessments electronically, planned for October 2013, costing an estimated £76 million more
  • The NAO has not been able to fully audit the exit settlement from Atos when it transferred the ESA contract early "due to delays receiving the evidence requested"

PCS general secretary Mark Serwotka said: "This report, while disappointingly limited in its scope, casts grave doubts on the policy of privatising this very sensitive public service.

"Claimants need to feel they are being supported, not targeted, and we will continue to press for this work to be brought back in-house."


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