Thousands of disability assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the government’s own quality control scheme

351-burden-cuts-by-populationInfographic from The Centre for Welfare Reform

New figures released by the Government indicate that neither Atos nor Capita – the private companies contracted by the government – paid more than £500m to assess people for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) – are actually meeting the target of 97% of assessments conforming to standards. 

The government have released the data to the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, which was due to take evidence from Atos and Capita regarding the assessments yesterday.

While private companies carry out the assessments, it is the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that makes the final decision on whether to award people financial support. However, those decisions are informed by the contents of reports that privately contracted ‘health professionals’ write during the assessment process.

Latest audits show that 6.4% of PIP assessments were deemed “unacceptable” in the three months leading up to October 2017.

Furthermore, the two companies have never met the target once, by the standard set using the government’s current method of quality control and measuring performance for PIP assessments.

Audits of the 4,200 PIP assessments take place every three months and are split between three ‘lots’ that are managed by different companies.

Lot 1 is assigned to Atos trading as ‘Independent Assessment Services’ (IAS). The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said 6.2% of its assessments were “unacceptable” in the three months to October 2017.

Lot 3 is also assigned to IAS. The DWP said 5.7% of the assessments were “unacceptable” in the three months to October 2017.

Lot 2 is assigned to Capita. The DWP said 7.3% of its assessments were “unacceptable” in the three months to October 2017.

        The government’s own figures on the rate of ‘unacceptable’ PIP tests.                                   (Image: Department for Work and Pensions)

The current performance measure – which sees an independent team pick cases at random – was launched in March 2016. Under the previous method, the private providers audited assessments themselves. 

The National Audit Office (NAO) found last year that the number of completed ESA assessments were below target, despite an expected doubling of the cost to the taxpayer of the contracts for disability benefit assessments, to £579m a year in 2016/17compared with 2014/15.

The NAO said that nearly 1 in 10 of the reports on disabled people claiming support were rejected as below standard by the government. This compares with around one in 25 before Atos left its contract. 

The provider was not on track to complete the number of assessments expected last year and has also missed assessment report quality targets. 

Atos abandoned its contract early following mounting evidence that hundreds of thousands of ill and disabled people have been wrongly judged to be fit for work and ineligible for government support. 

The proportion of Capita PIP tests deemed unacceptable reached a peak of 56% in the three months to April 2015.

For Atos, the peak was 29.1% for one lot in June 2014. 

More than 2.7million people have had a DWP decision regarding PIP since the benefit launched in 2013 – this suggests that tens of thousands went through an ‘unacceptable’ assessment.

The PCS union, which represents lower paid workers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), told MPs during the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry: “We do not believe that there is any real quality control.

“Our belief is that delivering the assessments in-house is the only effective way for DWP to guarantee the level of quality that is required.” 

In evidence submitted to the Work and Pensions Committee, Capita said 95% of assessments are now deemed acceptable – giving the figure for the past year. The company said:

“This represents a significant improvement from previous years and producing quality reports for the DWP remains a top priority within Capita.”

“Additionally, we use a range of intelligence as indicators, to identify disability assessors who may not be operating at the high quality output levels we expect.

“This includes data from audit activity, coaching and monitoring.

“This enables us to continually monitor performance, and take appropriate internal actions… where necessary to ensure we continue to deliver a quality service.”

Atos said 95.4% of tests are now acceptable and more work was needed to ensure the auditing process itself is “consistent”, adding: “We strive to deliver fair and accurate assessment reports 100% of the time.”

However, many disabled people would beg to differ. See for example: Essential Information for ESA claims, assessments and appeals. The comments section alone highlights just how unfair and inaccurate Atos assessments commonly are.

It also emerged that Atos and Capita employ just FOUR doctors between them. Most employees within the companies are nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists or occupational therapists. Capita’s chief medical officer Dr Ian Gargan confessed he was just one of two doctors at the firm’s PIP division, which has 1,500 staff.

He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee: “Two thirds of our professionals have a nursing background and the remainder are from occupational therapy, physiotherapy and paramedicine.”

Dr Barrie McKillop, clinical director of Atos’ PIP division, admitted they too only had two doctors among their staff. 

Frank Field said: “You’ve got two doctors each, mega workload – maybe there’s a lot of doctors out there who would long for some part-time work.” 

“You haven’t sought them out to raise your game, have you?”

However Dr McKillop insisted Atos’ current model “is a strong one” and people “bring clinical experience in different areas”.

You can listen to yesterday’s Work and Pensions Committee’s PIP and ESA evidence session here. 

The witnesses are: Simon Freeman, Managing Director, Capita Personal Independence Payments, Dr Ian Gargan, Chief Medical Officer, Capita Personal Independence Payments, David Haley, Chief Executive, Atos Independent Assessment Services and Dr Barrie McKillop, Clinical Director, Atos Independent Assessment Services.

You can access the written evidence here.

You can access the written evidence and watch the session online from the previous session here from 22 November.

The inquiry is ongoing. The Committee is interested in receiving recommendations for change both on the assessment process for each benefit individually, and on common lessons that can be learned from the two processes. 



Government guidelines for PIP assessment: a political redefinition of the word ‘objective’


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23 thoughts on “Thousands of disability assessments deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the government’s own quality control scheme

  1. While private companies carry out the assessments, it’s the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that makes the final decision on whether to award people financial support. hold on its their written report that sways the dm and whether or not you now these highly trained hcp sit at the same tables has the dwp dm hmm they make it sound so quaint they all in it to stop you governments orders jeff3

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Surely the best measure of whether they’re doing their job properly is how many decisions are overturned at tribunal? With some 45% overall, rising to 60-70% when people have the support of advice agencies and/or representation, both the DWP and Capita / Maximus are liable for a massive amount of ‘innaccurate’ decisions. Since the DWP tend to rubberstamp whatever the assessors say, these companies should be liable for costs at successful tribunals, and pay the advice services and law centres for the time we spend on these cases. The committee is looking at the wrong thing, and missing a trick in terms of making these companies accountable.


  3. While private companies carry out the assessments, it’s the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that makes the final decision on whether to award people financial support. So the private companies make the assessments on which the DWP makes its decisions, how does that not mean the private companies are the decision makers?


  4. I have written to the select committe after watching this yesterday. I have requested that they publish the % of top grade assessments achieved because to my mind if the are deciding peoples lives we should be concerned that all assessments are top quality and not satisfyed with the lowest level of report that passes. I feel that this figure would show whether a few % increase in performance is needed or as i suspect the performance needs to be inmproved by 70-80% before we can trust any of their so called assessments. Claimants are held to the highest account and so should assessors. We shouldn’t accept the minimum passable report wich will still have inaccuracys in it…..Only top grade should be allowed.


  5. hi i went for my pip assment on the 2nd of nov i got there decission i was turnd down for it i have copd asthma atherist blood problems cold foot diabetis colestrol back trouble im in pain nearly all the time and i have other problems what are thay playing at with peoples lives


  6. A friend’s Mandatory Reconsideration Notice read’s – Decision Maker – ”I have no reason to doubt the health professional’s findings, they have appropriate knowledge of clinical aspects of a wide range of medical conditions and are skilled in assessing people with physical and mental health conditions”.

    My friend’s appointee completed the PIP form, gathered information and also attended the health assessment. Throughout the assessment the appointee spoke mainly to the Health Professional on my friend’s behalf. When the appointee tried to detail the problems my friend faced carrying out daily activities, the Health Professional ‘cut them short’ in their sentence, stating throughout the assessment that the PIP claim form that had been completed by the appointee, was very detailed and there was lots of ‘medical evidence’ (15 years of evidence! ).

    My friend’s PIP claim was refused. They scored 4 points for care and 4 points for mobility.

    My friend who had received DLA for 15 years, was assessed for PIP by a ‘male’, Occupational Therapist. My friend cannot remember his name. The only document he has with the Health Professional’s name on is the Health Professional’s Report for the DWP. The HP’s report states the OT (himself?) was a ‘female’ (Miss xxxx). The Health Professional was definitely ‘male’ gender. My friend is left wondering if the Health Professional that carried out their ‘face to face’ assessment was indeed the same Health Professional that wrote the report for the DWP! How can the HA’s report be relied upon in the first instance when there are factual errors such as this? This point and several other points, including claimant failing the ‘money test’ (spend 75 pence from £1, what do you have left? claimant said 15p), was raised in a letter to the DWP when asking for Mandatory Reconsideration. MR was refused so my friend now has to request a tribunal hearing.

    Can someone explain for what reason disability assessments are deemed ‘unacceptable’ under the governments’s own quality control system? What exactly is it about the reports that is ‘deemed unacceptable’ by the government? At what stage in the PIP process are they deemed ‘unacceptable?’ Are they deemed ‘unacceptable’ at the point when the DWP receive the HP’s report (point scoring too high?), too little, too much information on report? Or are the reports deemed ‘unacceptable’ when they receive complaints from claimants and subsequent high levels of claimants requesting mandatory reconsideration?
    If you’ve read this thank you for your time, advice is appreciated.


  7. They ( Atos ) have had a dreadful reputation in Occupational Health with Business Referral Forms – riddled with shocking basic errors .

    The price they were charging the employer for such a poor service was unbelievable . However this was used as a ‘justification’ for employees ending up on a serious breach of contract disciplinary charge if they failed to ‘ engage ‘ in any way with Atos

    I’m not naive , there were some right old soldiers , the professional claimers for compensation , the professional skivers and / or the druggies and **** heads with arguably self inflicted problems

    However practically everyone was fitted up as lead swingers with ‘ good doctors ‘ . Could have gone on all night once at a Union Conference with Atos horror stories .

    The senior management tended to operate at the very edge of employment law at best , putting perverse inferences on matters at the worst .

    There was the usual propaganda on a anti union , pro privatisation site from senior management , people were not to go round saying that their so called HCPs were unqualified , it was sour grapes , only Atos knew what your job entailed not your doctor / specialist / consultant etc – the irony was in many cases their staff didn’t have a clue .

    Liked by 1 person

  8. Re the above , the DWP has always been institutionally incapable of operating in a independent manner for years .

    A culture of literal mindedness – a very limited , bordering on childlike way of thinking .


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