Disability Benefit Assessments ‘Underperforming’ In Spite Of Rise In Cost Finds NAO
The government is failing to achieve value for money in carrying out assessments for disability benefits, the National Audit Office has said.
The spending watchdog’s report found tests were becoming more expensive, but quality was not improving. However, oversight was better, it said.
The cost of some assessments went up by 65% after a US firm secured a contract to carry them out in March.
The Department for Work and Pensions says it will look at the findings.
Disability charities said the assessment system was still failing claimants.
Health assessments for Employment and Support Allowance are carried out to ensure claimants are eligible for benefits.
Private provider Atos quit its contract in 2014 and was replaced last year by US firm Maximus.
The new contract requires an increased number of face-to-face assessments – with more staff needed to carry them out.
The NAO said there had been a struggle to recruit enough specialist medical staff to meet demand, while rising salaries had contributed to the rise in the average cost of each assessment – from £115 to £190.
This meant it would cost £595m to carry out the 3.4 million assessments needed by the 2018-19.
A spokesperson said that despite increasing the size of its performance management team, the DWP “continues to struggle with setting targets and requirements with clear evidence”.
“Recent performance shows the department has not tackled – and may even have exacerbated – some of these problems when setting up recent contracts,” they said.
At least £76m of taxpayers’ money had also been wasted by the failure to get a new IT system up and running – more than two years after it was supposed to be in place, the watchdog added.
Expected savings to the welfare budget had been reduced from £1.1bn over the next three years to £400m, it said.
Ensure ‘better deal’
The head of the NAO, Amyas Morse, said the DWP had “addressed some of its immediate operational issues in managing contracted-out health and disability assessments”.
But he said the government needed to “take action to break a perpetuating cycle of optimistic targets, contractual underperformance and costly recovery”.
A DWP spokesman said it would consider the report, adding: “We are determined to support more people into work and provide individuals who can’t with the correct support that they need – the effective assessment of people’s abilities is key to this.”
Shadow minister for disabled people, Debbie Abrahams, said the report exposed a “shambles”, adding “too many disabled people have been badly let down by these assessments”.
And Dan Scorer, head of policy at the charity Mencap, said “people with a learning disability who rely on the support from benefits are still suffering from a system that fails to help the people it is designed for”.