French company Atos is walking away from major government contract following concerns over its disability testing procedures
Atos has quit its contract to carry out ‘fit for work’ disability and work capability assessments a year early, the government has announced.
In a statement, Disability Minister Mike Penning confirmed that the French company, appointed by the Labour government in 2008, is ending its contract, which was originally due to expire in August 2015, following government concern over “significant quality failures”.
“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,” Penning said. “Quite the contrary, Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the department.”
The news, which came after ‘detailed negotiations’ between the government and Atos, follows a series of independent investigations which found significant failures in the company’s processes.
Last summer, a similar review by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) identified shortcomings in the written reports Atos produced after tests and put a plan for improvement in place. However, following further tests in February, the DWP said standards had declined significantly, necessitating the need for change.
Mr Penning said the government was now looking for a provider to replace Atos “with the view to increasing the number of assessments and reducing waiting times”, and hoped to appoint a new company by early 2015.
Claimants currently applying for employment and support allowance must take a work-capability assessment to see how their disability or illness affects their ability to work. However, Atos received hundreds of complaints concerning the harshness of these tests or the verdicts, with some of the company’s employees even receiving death threats.
More than 600,000 appeals have been lodged against Atos judgements since the work capability assessments began, costing the taxpayer £60 million a year, the Guardian reports, noting that in four out of ten cases the original decisions are overturned.
“This Government is committed to getting as many people as possible into work,” Penning wrote, noting that over 650,000 people are now looking for, or preparing for, work. “I am committed to ensuring that the assessments are fair and accurate and, together with robust contract management, the recommendations made (in the) independent review will help us continue to improve the Work Capability Assessment.”
It has not been disclosed how the news will affect Atos’ other government contract, a £74 million five-year contract signed with the Department of Health in January 2012. Under the deal, Atos is delivering an integrated IT desktop service plus a range of supporting services within the Department of Health and for some of its Arms Length Bodies (such as Care Quality Commission and Health Protection Agency). It also provides the Department with an internal communication programme and training programs, alongside data centre infrastructure.
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