A report by the National Audit Office published last week reveals the costly chaos that has engulfed outsourced assessments for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP).
The NAO has discovered that whilst the costs of reports are rising, errors are huge and backlogs remain, whilst recruiting and retaining health professionals is becoming increasingly difficult.
Amongst the findings of the report:
- Over the three years from April 2015 to March 2018, the DWP expects to spend a staggering £1.6 billion on medical assessments.
- ESA and PIP reports between them only hit a shocking 13% of the quality standards they are supposed to meet, meaning that they fail to meet 87% of the targets set by the DWP.
- The DWP believes that the number of health professionals needed for benefits assessments will increase by 84%, from 2,200 in May 2015 to 4,050 by November 2016. Many of these will have to be poached from nursing and paramedic staff currently working in the overstretched NHS, which cannot match the salaries being offered by the assessment multinationals.
- The cost of ESA assessments has gone up by 65% from £115 to £190 per assessment, since the contract was transferred from Atos to Maximus.
- The expected savings from the introduction of ESA of £5.4 billion in the 10 years up until 2020 are not going to happen. In fact, the NAO says the cost of ESA is expected to go up in 2015-16.
- In August 2018 there was still a backlog of 280,000 waiting to be assessed for ESA and stranded in the lower paying assessment phase.
- The waiting time for an ESA assessment report to be carried out and sent to the DWP has fallen from 29 weeks in September 2014 to 23 weeks. Considering the entire assessment phase, from claim to decision is only supposed to last 13 weeks, this is still a massive failure.
- Maximus is not meeting its targets for the number of work capability assessments for ESA it carries out each month. The main problem is difficulty in recruiting health professionals, even at much higher wages, and the fact that a much higher proportion than expected drop out before completing the training.
- The NAO has suggested that ESA assessment quality is lower because staff are less experienced.
- ESA reassessments were suspended early in 2014 but have been restarted ‘gradually’ from December 2015. At August 2015 almost one million ESA reassessments had been suspended.
- Savings from the introduction of PIP have failed to materialise. The DWP expected to save £800 million up to April 2015. It saved nothing at all. It has now reduced its estimate of the savings to be made from PIP between 2015 to 2019 from £1.1 billion to £0.4 billion.
- The DWP have still failed to come up with standard computer software to carry out PIP assessments, in spite of the fact it was supposed to be available from October 2013. This has led to Atos and Capita coming up with their own systems, which many would consider are patchy at best and which have cost the taxpayer an additional £76 million so far.
- The DWP had expected to have assessed 1.7 million DLA claimants for PIP by 2018. It now expects this to take at least an additional year.
You can download the complete NAO report from this link.