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Civil Servants To Help Capita Cover PIP Assessment Backlog

April 6, 2014

Ministers have been forced to intervene and deploy civil servants to shore up a private company struggling to clear a backlog of medical assessments for payments to tens of thousands of terminally ill, sick and disabled people.

In a letter leaked to the Guardian, a senior civil servant says the “one-off” step will be taken because Capita is failing to process the recently introduced personal independence payment (PIP) claims in time.

The benefit, worth between £21 and £134 a week, is meant to cover transport, care and other costs associated with being seriously sick or disabled. Waiting times for assessment have been so long that in some cases people with terminal conditions have died before receiving a penny.

Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, the work and pensions secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, said his new PIP system would be fairer than the old disability living allowance (DLA). Under DLA, he said, people went “years and years” without being able to get the right support for their condition. With PIP, Duncan Smith said, many more people would get face-to-face assessments and the right sort of help.

However, the demand for face-to-face evaluations has overwhelmed the company contracted to carry them out – so much so that the DWP may cut back on such assessments to reduce waiting times.

In a letter dated 20 March, DWP staff were told they would be drafted in for a “one-off exercise” to clear Capita’s backlog. Work to reduce “the current backlog to a normal level of work … was now moving at pace”, the letter said.

It added: “Ministers have also been very clear that they see the need to drive up PIP performance to an acceptable level as a key priority for the department.”

In one of three steps to be trialled, the department will cut down on face-to-face referrals by getting its own staff to determine whether people are eligible for PIP using paper-only evidence.

“We are also considering whether DWP case managers could make more decisions earlier in the journey before formal referral” to Capita, the letter said.

The DWP confirmed that a pilot of paper-based decisions was starting in Wales and Bootle, but said it had always stated that if the case laid out in paper submissions was straightforward, not everyone would need a face-to-face interview with a medical professional.

PIP has already been criticised by the National Audit Office, which said in February that a backlog of 92,000 claims had built up and that people were facing “distress and financial difficulties” because of mismanagement by civil servants as well as Atos and Capita.

Last year the Conservative disability minister Mike Pennington said those diagnosed with illnesses such as terminal cancer would not have to wait longer than seven days to receive extra state aid. Asked why he had not imposed formal targets on Capita and Atos, Pennington said he would use his “size 10 boots” to enforce the desired wait times.

Following sustained criticism of their work, last month Atos confirmed it was departing early from another contract similar to PIP. Duncan Smith told the Marr show that Atos would be paying reparations for their failures on the work capability assessment contract.

“We have now actually asked them [Atos] to go, to leave. They didn’t ask us to go, we have asked them. And we will not pay a penny for that. They will actually pay reparations for failure to achieve what they were meant to achieve. The taxpayer will not be out of pocket.”

Mark Serwotka, head of the Public and Commercial Services union (PCS), which represents frontline DWP staff, said such benefit assessments should not have been outsourced in the first place.

“We have consistently said these sorts of services should be in-house, private companies have no place in providing them and have failed time and again. The DWP needs to invest in staff and resources to ensure disabled people get the support they need and deserve,” he said.

Capita said it was dealing with the situation by “taking on extra staff, including healthcare professionals, and extending the hours for carrying out assessments”.

It said: “We continue to deliver the assessments in a fair and objective way, providing high-quality reports to allow the Department to make its decision, and giving people the time they need to tell us how their disability affects them.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Ministers are committed to driving up PIP performance and we’re in regular contact with our providers to do this, as you would expect.

“We’ve always said that where claimants have enough evidence they won’t need to be seen in person. However, the majority of people will continue to have face-to-face assessments under the new benefit this government introduced, unlike the old system of disability living allowance where only around 6% were seen.”

12 Comments leave one →
  1. April 6, 2014 6:32 pm

    Reblogged this on Benefit tales.

  2. April 6, 2014 6:33 pm

    so yet more non medically trained staff being drafted in to overturn the opinions of GPs and specialists, then?

  3. Barry Davies permalink
    April 6, 2014 6:42 pm

    Why do they bother asking IDS about anything haven’t they learned that if his lips are moving he is lying.

  4. John Hargrave permalink
    April 6, 2014 7:22 pm

    Far too little, far too late. We only have PIP as a means to cutting the amount of money spent on disabled people. DLA money was a lot more, although there were plenty of complaints about that, it just needed reworking to include more people. The only thing that gets on my PIP is IDS spouting rubbish on the BBC.

  5. jefffrey davies permalink
    April 6, 2014 7:27 pm

    whot you are missing is more money lost through it all just to show its working targeting those who cant fight back jeff3

  6. Barry Davies permalink
    April 6, 2014 7:57 pm

    I bet Capita will still be getting all the money for it and not paying for the extra staff though.

  7. April 6, 2014 11:37 pm

    Reblogged this on Vox Political and commented:
    Wait just a cotton-pickin’ minute there! Aren’t civil servants and other public sector workers, you know, part of the problem (according to the Coalition)? Isn’t that why the public sector is being slimmed down?
    Yet when the private companies show themselves up (as usual), it’s the civil servants and public sector workers – the professionals – who have to save the day. What will we do when the government has finally achieved its aim and rationalised them down to nothing?

  8. April 7, 2014 6:36 am

    Reblogged this on sdbast.

  9. beastrabban permalink
    April 7, 2014 8:18 am

    Reblogged this on Beastrabban’s Weblog and commented:
    This actually demonstrates how wrong the Tory dogma of privatising state functions and leasing them to private companies actually is. This was begun under Thatcher and Major under the assumption that private industry would always work better than the state. Clearly, as this case shows, they don’t. And unfortunately the people, who pay dearest for their failure are the poor, the sick and the disabled.

    As for Capita, they are so regularly in the pages of Private Eye for their repeated failures and abysmally poor performance that the magazine calls them Crapita. This is just another in a long line of examples of the company’s utter inability to provide services efficiently and on-time, without additional state aid. It’s appalling that this company keeps on having its incompetence rewarded by even more government contracts. It’s about time they went they way of Atos too.

  10. Barry Davies permalink
    April 7, 2014 8:51 am

    I wonder how it is that if private is better than public that the government inevitably find the only private companies that don’t match that assessment?

  11. April 7, 2014 11:12 am

    Atos really got the message when disabled people took to the streets. It seems that this is the only way to get the message across to crapita – one day a week a lightening demonstration highlighting their crimes.

    Politicians are our public servants and private companies have no place in any of this. We just have to keep highlighting it.


  12. April 7, 2014 1:50 pm

    It always puzzles me why ‘healthcare professionals’ are taking part in this sort of work; surely, they should be providing the healthcare that they were trained to do in the first instance. Call me a suspicious old sort, but it is a very odd situation…

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