Disability claimant firm Atos quits contract early

THE controversial firm that carries out assessments for disability claimants is quitting its contract early, the UK government has announced.

Atos came under fire for the number of assessments it made as well as waiting times. Picture: Robert Perry

Atos has been under fire over the number of assessments it has made and has become a byword for harsh welfare reforms and austerity measures aimed at getting people back to work.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced that the French firm was exiting its contract to deliver “work capability assessments” before it is due to end in August 2015.

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Ministers stressed Atos would not receive any compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of the contract, and had made a “substantial” financial settlement to the DWP.

In the wake of yesterday’s announcement, charities and opposition parties demanded a complete overhaul of the way disability benefits are managed.

Claimants undergo a work capability assessment when applying for employment and support allowance, to see how their illness or disability affects their ability to work.

The DWP said last summer it had identified “significant quality failures” in written reports produced by Atos following assessments. An improvement plan was put in place, but the government said it was now looking for a new provider to replace Atos.

The DWP said that to ensure a smooth transition, a national provider would be appointed early next year to take over the contract. In the longer term, the intention is to move to multiple providers to increase competition.

Mike Penning, minister for disabled people, said: “The previous government appointed Atos as the sole provider for carrying out work capability assessments and since then we have carried out several independent reviews and made significant improvements to the assessment.

“Today we are announcing that we are seeking a new provider to replace Atos, with the view to increasing the number of assessments and reducing waiting times.

“I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract. Quite the contrary, Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the department.”

Richard Hawkes, chief executive of the disability charity Scope, said: “I doubt there’s a single disabled person who’ll be sorry to hear that Atos will no longer be running the fit-

for-work tests.

“We welcome the minister’s decision. He now has a real

opportunity for government to review their approach to work capability assessments and ensure that when they appoint a new provider, there is a move away from a fundamentally flawed system.”

Richard Kramer, deputy chief executive of charity Sense, said: “Disabled people have been saying for some time that the system isn’t working and Atos’s decision to pull out of their

contract is a reflection of these failures.”

The departure of Atos was also welcomed by unions. Mark Serwotka, general-secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union, said : “These privatised work assessments are fundamentally flawed and designed to harass vulnerable people and take their benefits away.”

Welcoming the Atos move, SNP welfare minister Margaret Burgess said: “Work capability assessments are failing the most vulnerable in society.”