Outsourcing companies have been failing to request vital evidence from GPs and social workers that would help disabled people secure the benefits they are entitled to, confidential Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) documents have revealed.
The “absolutely shocking” reports, released under the Freedom of Information Act, show that Atos and Capita contacted health and social care professionals to ask for information far less often than the government estimated would be needed.
DWP documents drawn up in May 2012, before the award of the contracts to deliver personal independence payment (PIP) assessments, show the department expected its contractors would need to request further evidence (also known as further medical evidence) in about half of all cases (50 per cent).
But at one stage, in June and July 2016, Capita was seeking further information from GPs, consultants or social workers in fewer than one in every 50 PIP claims (less than two per cent of cases).
During June 2016, Capita sought further evidence for just 380 of the 21,554 PIP assessments it dealt with.
Information released to SNP’s Drew Hendry last week has highlighted further concerns that suggest the problem may even have worsened last year.
Sarah Newton, the minister for disabled people, admitted in a written parliamentary response to Hendry that the total number of separate requests for further evidence by Capita had plunged from more than 94,000 in 2015, to about 48,000 in 2016, and then to less than 21,000 in the whole of 2017.
The revelations in the new DWP documents provide fresh evidence of failings by the two private sector outsourcing giants in delivering assessments across England, Wales and Scotland.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been investigating claims of widespread dishonesty by PIP assessors for more than a year, and has now heard from about 300 claimants who say their assessment reports contained clear lies.
The newly-released reports include details of the “management information” (MI) the two companies were contractually obliged to provide every month to DWP, so it could check on their performance and take action when they needed to improve.
They show how they performed during 2016 in certain areas, such as how long face-to-face assessments were taking on average; how many face-to-face assessments were carried out; and how many assessments reports were graded as unacceptably poor.
They were released to campaigner John Slater, as part of his efforts to secure confidential DWP information that he believes will expose widespread failings by Capita and Atos, as well as DWP’s failure to manage the contracts properly.
He has been working with Disabled People Against Cuts researcher Anita Bellows, and DNS, to analyse the data since its release last month.
The figures also show a dramatic, unexplained slump in the proportion of cases in which Capita sought further information on PIP claims, from as high as 69 per cent of cases in January 2016, to just 1.8 per cent five months later.
The other contractor, Atos, also has key questions to answer over its performance.