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Standard of ESA and PIP assessments unacceptable says Public Accounts Committee

31 March 2016

Standard of ESA and PIP assessments unacceptable says Public Accounts Committee

The private companies carrying out Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payments (PIP) assessments are still failing to meet acceptable performance standards, the Public Accounts Committee said today.

The Committee says, while it is encouraged by reductions in backlogs and delays for claimants in receiving decisions, there are "particular concerns" about the quality of assessments.

It finds there are unacceptable local and regional variations in contractor performance, with a lack of transparency meaning claimants "do not have a clear expectation of the service they can expect".

The Committee concludes "too many assessments" do not meet the required standard, and highlights specific concerns over the level of service for claimants with fluctuating and mental health conditions.

It also questions the value for money of an increase in the cost of assessments, finding "there has been no noticeable benefit for claimants or taxpayers".

The Committee says the Department "appears to have repeatedly misjudged what contractors can deliver and the uncertainties underlying what can be achieved", raising concerns that such operational uncertainties could present a further risk to value for money if interest in bidding for contracts declines.

In its recommendations to government, the Committee calls on the Department to publish quarterly national and regional data on contractor performance, including average and maximum times to return assessments for ESA and PIP.

Within 12 months the Department must make significant progress in making the assessment process "easier for claimants and ensure it has well-trained, knowledgeable assessors who are sensitive to the complex issues that claimants are dealing with".

The Committee also urges the Department and contractors to develop "a more complete and effective regime for monitoring and improving the quality of assessments", including ensuring contractors meet the required standards for reports. 

Ken Butler, Welfare Rights Officer at Disability Rights UK said:

“It is a scandal that despite being launched in 2008 and having been the subject of five independent reviews, the work capability assessment is still failing to meet acceptable performance standards.

While reductions in backlogs are welcome, up to one in five reports sampled by contractors are below the required standard and evidence shows that attempts to reduce delays have undermined the quality of assessments.

A work capability assessment system that results in 58% of appeals being successful is simply not fit for purpose.

The same problems beset the assessment for Personal Independence Payment where again 60% of appeals are successful.

The new Secretary of State at DWP, Stephen Crabb said he has pledged a new beginning.

Rather than shoring up a disability benefit system that isn’t working, he should be speaking to disabled people to reshape welfare so it supports their independence and helps those who can work obtain employment and keep it.”

The Committee’s report ‘Contracted out health and disability assessments’ is available @ http://www.publications.parliament.uk/pa/cm201516/cmselect/cmpubacc/727/727.pdf