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Benefits Claimants Waiting Too Long for Poor Quality ‘Fit-to-Work’ Assessments, New Figures Reveal

Benefits claimants are regularly waiting too long for ‘fit for work’ assessments to be conducted – the quality of which are not good enough, Byline Times can reveal.

Work Capability Assessments, overseen by private firm Maximus, are not fit-for-purpose, say campaigners.

The Government has been criticised for its “shameful” rewarding of failure as new figures show that the company carrying out the Government’s controversial Work Capability Assessments is regularly failing to meet key performance targets.

Data obtained by a Freedom of Information request by the campaigner John Slater shows that, between November 2017 and December 2018, benefits claimants were regularly waiting too long for ‘fit-for-work’ tests to be carried out and the quality of assessments were often not good enough.

The documents also show that some claimants were sent home from assessment centres without being seen and that travel expenses were regularly not reimbursed on time.

The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CHDA), a subsidiary of the company Maximus, failed to clear new claims within the required time limit in nine out of the 10 months that data is available for during that period. Assessments also fell below the expected quality standards in eight of the 13 months reported. 

Private providers play an important role in delivering this.

Department for Work and Pensions Spokesperson

The news comes just weeks after the Government announced it would be extending its contract with the company to 2021. This is despite the fact that, between October and December 2018, 74% of Employment Support Allowance (ESA) decisions taken to a tribunal were overturned.

Earlier this year, it was revealed that a 64-year-old man with chronic health problems was forced from his hospital bed to attend an appeal to fight for his disability benefits after being found fit for work in 2017. Stephen Smith, whose weight had plummeted to just six stone, had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, osteoarthritis, and an enlarged prostate. He died in April.

Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People, Marsha de Cordova, told Byline Times that the revelations were “shocking”.

“The flawed Work Capability Assessment is not fit-for-purpose and it is shocking that the private company that carries out these assessments is failing to meet its performance targets,” she said. 

“It is shameful that the Government has consistently rewarded failure, renewing Maximus’ contract to deliver these assessments as recently as March 2019. Labour will scrap cruel Work Capability Assessments and introduce a tailored and supportive framework that treats disabled people with respect.”

People often tell us they are asked inappropriately detailed questions about self-harm and suicide.

Paul Spencer, Mind

In 2017, a study found that Work Capability Assessments were causing a deterioration in people’s mental health. In the same year, CHDA faced claims that its assessors had asked people who felt suicidal “why they hadn’t killed themselves”.

The mental health charity Mind has today repeated its calls for the assessments to be overhauled. 

“The stressful, time-consuming nature of fit-for-work assessments can have a huge impact on people’s wellbeing when they are trying to navigate the system, especially for those of us with mental health problems,” Paul Spencer, Mind’s policy and campaign manager, said. 

“For many people, travelling to these appointments – which are often miles from home – can be really overwhelming, especially if they are then cancelled or their expenses are not paid on time. It’s appalling that people risk being left more out of pocket, while going through this process. 

“People often tell us they are asked inappropriately detailed questions about self-harm and suicide, and that they’re rarely given the chance to talk about how their condition changes over time, or how their mental health affects them at work. The Government must overhaul these assessments.”

It is shameful that the Government has consistently rewarded failure, renewing Maximus’ contract to deliver these assessments as recently as March 2019.

Marsha de Cordova MP

CHDA told Byline Times that it consistently meets the vast majority of its performance indicators.

“Since taking over the contract in 2015, we have delivered year-on-year improvements across the service, doubling the number of clinical staff and halving the time people need to wait for their assessment,” a spokesperson said. “We are committed to continuing to work in partnership with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the people we assess to further improve every stage of the service.”

A spokesperson for the DWP said its focus is to achieve “value for money and the best possible outcomes for claimants”.

“Private providers play an important role in delivering this,” a spokesperson said. “We set our providers challenging targets and use contractual levers to monitor their performance closely and ensure they consistently meet the expected improvements.”

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