Tuesday, 18 February 2014

No rubberstamping? ATOS decides

The assessment process for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA), has been the subject of severe controversy and debate for a number of years.
The WCA (Work Capability Assessment) forms an integral part of the decision process and is administered by ATOS.
The WCA itself has come under attack with even the BMA calling for its suspension as far back as 2012.
It has been found in court to discriminate against people claiming on the grounds of mental health and despite some improvement since its initial implementation is said to continue to cause harm to many claimants.
Although ATOS is responsible for administering the test, the DWP has set its conditions and parameters. The DWP and ATOS have always denied that there are "targets" to meet as to how many claimants should pass the test. However it has become clear that "norms" have caused the same effect.

After administering the WCA ATOS staff issue a recommendation to the DWP as to whether the claimant should be assessed as Fit For Work, or put in the WRAG or Support Group.
The final decision rests with the DWP decision maker who we are told also has access to "further information".

Throughout the past few years the government has strenuously denied that ATOS decides who gets ESA. For example on July 22nd 2013 Lord Freud addressed the House of Commons and said:
"Assessment reports, such as those provided by Atos, form only one part of the WCA process, which has a number of checks and balances built in to ensure the right decision is reached for claimants. After the Atos assessment DWP Decision Makers make the final decision on claimants’ benefit entitlement based on all evidence provided during the claim."

It was therefore interesting to read this FOI request which gives the number of final DWP decisions compared to the number of provisional ATOS decisions.

A few short calculations reveal that the DWP follows the ATOS recommendations in 91% of cases.

This hardly seems to back up the claim that the ATOS process only forms a small part of the assessment process with plenty of "checks and balance". Instead it seems a rubber stamping exercise.

The fact is, for all intents and purposes, ATOS decide who is eligible for ESA at the WCA stage, with all the flaws mentioned above.

Notwithstanding this, there are some further troubling questions raised by the data.
Further scrutiny of the figures reveals that 98% of overturned decisions are in the claimant's favour, raising questions on whether ATOS are being too harsh in their assessments.

Furthermore, FFW recommendations are far more likely to be upgraded (16%) than a WRAG recommendation (4%). While this could partially be due to the structure of ESA itself, it also raises the possibility that DWP decision makers are concentrating more on FFW recommendations than WRAG.
Given that WRAG is time limited to one year for contribution based ESA, not to mention the requirements imposed on people in the WRAG including the threat of sanctions, this is a serious issue.

All of these issues: the potential over harshness of ATOS recommendations, the possible lack of investigation on the part of DWP decision makers and the possible concentration on FFW recommendations at the expense of the WRAG, should be investigated at the earliest opportunity.

1 comment:

  1. Most sensible people know all this already yet the government insists on telling lie after lie after lie. We know that the DWP go along with an Atos decision and always have. Why? Because of the number of successful appeals tell us that the WCA does not work and that ultimately Atos does make the decision based on how many targets are set for that particular day!