Paralympics buzz will not drown out chorus of disapproval of Atos

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The government did its best to exploit the feel-good buzz of the Olympics, but the Paralympics may now supply a few uncomfortable moments for Cameron & Co.

Let’s hope so too, given the continued demonisation of benefits claimants by an administration hoping to surf a wave of Paralympics-inspired positivity.

The greatest anger surrounds the work capability assessment tests being used to determine whether those claiming employment support allowance, the new version of incapacity benefit, are fit for employment.

Incapacity benefit fraud is just 0.3 per cent, the government’s own figures show, while disability living allowance fraud is 0.5 per cent.

Undeterred, the government wants to slash spending on disability benefits by a fifth. It doesn’t quite compute, does it.

Thousands of people have been wrongly judged by Atos – the firm being paid £100 million a year by the government to run the assessments – as being fit enough to work.

They include people with disabilities, serious illnesses and even some who are terminally ill. More than 40 doctors and nurses working for Atos have been reported to medical regulators for professional misconduct, it emerged this week.

So it’s no surprise then that almost seven in ten Scots helped by Citizens Advice in appealing Atos rulings last year were successful in getting their assessments overturned. Across the UK, the appeal success rate is around 40 per cent.

However, the process itself is causing untold grief, with umbrella group the Scottish Disability Equality Forum warning that work capability assessment tests – even the prospect of undergoing them in some cases – are driving people to attempt suicide.

But still the tests go on, with thousands of people subjected to them every week despite overwhelming evidence that they are not fit for purpose.

Atos has also been awarded the contract to assess the work fitness of claimants for disability living allowance, which is being replaced by the personal independence payment.

And guess which French IT company is among the sponsors of the Paralympics? Yes, Atos. You’d laugh if it’s actions weren’t so ruinous and devastating.

Reports that new rules on financial advice will result in at least one in ten IFA firms shutting down over the next year have sparked new fears over the implications of the reforms.

The retail distribution review (RDR), which comes into force at the end of the year, features a ban on commission from providers to advisers recommending their products; new qualification requirements, and new labels for different types of advice, among other measures.

Responding to the warning that thousands of advisers would disappear within months – and 10 per cent is a conservative estimate – a senior figure at watchdog the Financial Services Authority said that “a surplus of bad advice does nobody any ­favours”.

To imply that all the IFAs leaving the industry once RDR is in force will be those responsible for tarnishing the sector’s reputation is bizarre. There are myriad reasons for leaving – for example, many older advisers are at a point where early retirement has a greater appeal than sitting for new qualifications.

What there will be after the change is an increase in the number of people using “non-advised” services or, worse, going to high street banks for advice. The latter will most likely result in more mis-selling and more people being ripped off, although banks are trimming their advice operations as they realise there may be too little money in it for them.

But what about non-advised services? Less has been said about this model, which relies largely on the investor knowing and understanding what they want.

It will appeal to the growing number of people who prefer to control their own investments, for better or worse. The trend towards going it alone is a result of several factors, including the evolution of online investing, resentment of advice charges, the rise of execution-only brokers and the continued decline in trust in the industry.

But the DIY approach has its dangers. There is an assumption in particular that affluent investors know what they’re doing, which is patently not the case. Look at the victims of “boiler room” fraud – almost all of the victims of such scams selling bogus shares have been experienced and sophisticated investors, their names taken from share ownership registers.

It’s all very well having a punt with your spare money, but it’s not the same as putting together a long-term pension plan, for example. If you really know what you’re doing and you understand the risks, fine. But if you don’t, you’re taking a gamble if you walk away from advice and opt to go it alone.