Auditors from National Audit Office (NAO) have found “weaknesses” in the contract between Atos, the private firm paid to carry out fit-to-work medical assessments and the government.
NAO found weaknesses in the agreement, which include bad performance and not providing good value for money. The National Audit Office criticised Iain Duncan Smith’s Department of Work and Pensions (DwP) for setting performance targets too low, failing to adequately fine Atos for poor performance and not properly checking the accuracy of performance data that Atos submitted.
Despite the criticisms, the Paralympics Sponsor – Atos was recently awarded a £400m contract to conduct the medical re-assessments of Employment and Support Allowance benefit claimants to establish whether or not they are fit for work.
This was initiated in 2008 under the Labour government scheme. It has been accepted with significant controversy and resistance, with recent figures showing wrong decisions in about 40% of the time. The NAO said it was unclear whether the quality of the tests was to blame for the number of wrong decisions and that there was insufficient data to make a statement on this.
DWP admitted that Atos was breaching the deadlines with failing to complete some fitness testing and since nid-2011 their performance was not satisfying – “below the standard”. DWP has been criticised by NAO for not taking efficient measures on time by seeking “financial redress” from Atos for their bad-performed services. After the audit, NAO concluded that only 10% of the poor-performance penalties had been applied.
The NAO criticised the DWP for not seeking “financial redress” for these delays, saying just 10% of the penalties triggered by poor performance had been applied.
But a DWP Secretary Iain Duncan Smith claimed that the agreement was reviewed regularly and had been “substantially improved” over the past two years. He also said: “It is a complicated area, but we are committed to making it a success to ensure it is both fair and accurate for the user and value for money for the taxpayer.”