ALMOST 70 per cent of long-term incapacity benefit claimants have had their payments stopped following the introduction of fitness to work assessments.
Social Care Minister Chris Robertshaw was quizzed in the House of Keys about the Atos Healthcare consultancy which has been brought in to carry out medical assessments on benefit claimants as part of a six month trial.
Mr Robertshaw revealed that of 106 assessment cases that have been completed so far, 33 had signed themselves off before the assessment even took place, 33 had their benefits confirmed and 40 were found to be capable of work.
John Houghton (Douglas North) described the figures as ‘rather staggering’. He said Atos in the UK had got a reputation for ‘bullying people who are unable to go to work’ and asked why the Department of Social Care hadn’t carried out its own checks if it believed some were claiming when they should not have done.
Mr Robertshaw replied: ‘This is a very sensitive and specialist area.’ He said the island was not in the business of jumping into using specialist services until it was absolutely satisfied they were appropriate.
The Examiner revealed in September Atos had been brought in to carry out face-to-face personal capability assessments of long-term claimants on incapacity benefit.
It is currently two thirds of the way through the six-month pilot.
Campaigners in the UK have called for it to be stripped of its £100m a year contract with the Department of Work and Pensions in protest at its ‘flawed’ approach which they claim has left thousands denied the right benefits.
Kate Beecroft (Lib Van, Douglas South) asked the Minister if he was satisfied with Atos’s performance and questioned whether suitably qualified medical professionals in the island could have undertaken this work.
Mr Robertshaw said: ‘No, there was no suitable local specialist, because this is very much a specialist area. Yes, I am satisfied with the performance.’
The Minister declined to give the Keys details about how much Atos Healthcare was being paid for its services. He said to do so would prejudice the department’s future dealings with Atos or other service providers and would compromise any tender process Social Care may be required to undertake in the future.
But he added: ‘I can advise the department is being charged by Atos Healthcare the same, on a pro rata basis, as is charged to the Department of Work and Pensions and that I am satisfied we are getting excellent value for money.’
Mrs Beecroft asked how many complaints had been received from those who had been assessed.
Mr Robertshaw replied that every person who goes through the assessment process is entitled to appeal but there had not been one single appeal so far.
Brenda Cannell (Douglas East) questioned whether, bearing in mind the ‘extensive criticism of this organisation’, the Minister is seriously considering going into a contractual arrangement with Atos at the end of the trial.
Mr Robertshaw said he would not pre-judge a decision.