Atos aims to exit contract over ‘death threats’

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The company which carries out “fitness for work” tests for disability benefit claims is seeking an early exit from its government contract in the face of persistent death threats to staff.

Atos Healthcare confirmed that it has been in discussions with officials for “several months” about ending its £500 million work capability assessment contract, which is due to run to August 2015.

The Financial Times reported that the French-run company had recorded around 163 incidents a month last year of members of the public assaulting or abusing its staff, both in person and online.

Examples of the abuse on Facebook were said to include: “murdering scum… won’t be smiling when we come to hang you bastards”.

The company has regularly come under fire over the assessments – which are used to gauge eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance and Incapacity Benefit – amid claims people are being wrongly recommended for work or put through stressful medical interviews.

A spokesman for Atos insisted that it would continue to provide a service until new contractors had been appointed.

He said: “For several months now we have been endeavouring to agree an early exit from the work capability assessment contract which is due to expire in August 2015.

“Our total focus remains on delivering the services we are contracted to provide in a professional and compassionate way until a new service begins.”

Nevertheless, relations with the Department for Work and Pensions appear to be close to breakdown amid persistent criticism over the quality of its assessments.

Last summer it was announced that the company, originally appointed by the last Labour government in 2008, had been instructed to implement a “quality improvement plan” following an “unacceptable” deterioration of its written reports.