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Concerns over DWP cash incentives

The DWP has announced it is developing in-house IT capacity for medical assessments after the Commons Select Committee received thousands of accounts of shoddy, error-ridden reports that have slipped through the net.

Medical assessments for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) are currently carried out by private contractors including Atos and Capita, whose contracts have been renewed for an interim 2-year period only.

A Work and Pensions Committee report found that "the definition of an 'acceptable' report leaves ample room for reports riddled with errors and omissions". Despite this low bar, all three contractors had failed to meet their key targets in any single period to that point, and both Capita and Atos still have not. "Large sums of money have been paid to contractors despite quality targets having been universally missed. The taxpayer has spent hundreds of millions of pounds more checking and defending DWP decisions based on the contractors' reports - not least in externalised costs in the Tribunal appeal system."

Following publication of an internal Atos letter describing a bonus structure for completing "extra" assessments, the Committee wrote to all three contractors - Atos, Capita and Maximus - who carry out the ESA assessments and disability Minister Sarah Newton, with concerns over the potential for further reducing the quality of the assessments with a financial incentive to "rush".

Despite all three contractors, and the Department, repeating assurances that measures are in place to uphold quality even with the "volume" bonus, the Committee has already established that these "quality" measures do not actually measure the quality of content in the report, only how they are written. Those existing quality "assurances" have also, of course, not ensured that Capita or Atos have ever met their contractual quality target, and Maximus has only done so for the first time recently, as described in their response.

Read Commons Select Committee - Committee concerns over DWP contractors' cash incentives to rush already "shoddy, error-ridden" PIP and ESA reports