Exclusive: Benefit checks to cost £100m a year

Seeing as the costs of the government’s reforms to welfare and unemployment are in the news today I thought it would be a good day to reveal an exclusive I have been sitting on – the costs of testing every individual on incapacity benefit are to be at least £100m a year.

I know this because I requested the information under a Freedom of Information Request way back in July and was very suprised to get an answer from the Department of Work and Pensions (they are normally very good at fobbing you off when you ask about current policy).

Following the government’s announcement that they were going to “test” every person on incapacity benefit to see whether they were claiming it legitimately or not I wanted to know a bit more about the actual process and how much it would cost.

I asked for the “expected cost of testing every individual on incapacity benefit” and the answer I received was: “The total cost of these services amounts to approximately £100 million per annum.”

This, to me, is a staggering sum of money to be spending on testing every individual on incapacity benefit to see whether they are ‘deserving’ of it.

Similarly I asked a vague question about “How this testing will be done in practice” and they revealed something worrying.

The DWP admitted that those assessing whether or not someone is deserving of incapacity benefit do not need to be trained doctors.

The FOI says “unlike the more widely known type of examination undertaken by a customer’s GP, the assessment is not concerned with diagnosis or decisions about treatment and therefore specialist diagnostic qualifications are unnecessary.”

To me this inevitably suggests mistakes will be made, and worrying ones at that…

The full FOI request is copied below

Date: 22nd July 2010

Our Ref: FOI 1526-1860

Dear Mr Dyke

Thank you for your Freedom of Information request dated 8th July 2010.

In you letter you asked:

  1. The expected cost of testing every individual on incapacity benefit
  2. How this testing will be done in practice

Following a customers claim for benefit, the DWP Decision Maker may ask Atos Healthcare to conduct an independent, impartial assessment of the customer’s illness or disability on their every day life. The resulting report then forms part of the evidence used by the Decision Maker when deciding the outcome of the customer’s claim.

These types of assessments are completed under the terms of the contract DWP has with Atos Healthcare by Health Care Professionals who are trained in Disability Analysis. Expertise in this field qualifies them to give an impartial, independent assessment on the way in which a customer’s illness or disability affects them in carrying out of a range of everyday work-related activities. Training includes the assessment of the effects of specific conditions, for example mental health, or where a condition may fluctuate. Emphasis is always placed on the differing circumstances of each individual customer.

Before Health Care Professionals can be approved by the DWP Chief Medical Adviser they must pass strict recruitment and experience criteria, be registered with an appropriate professional body such as the General Medical Council or the Nursing and Midwifery Council and be fully trained in Disability Assessment Medicine, with a programme of continuing medical education.  They are also trained in customer rights, equal opportunities and professional standards.

Unlike the more widely known type of examination undertaken by a customer’s GP, the assessment is not concerned with diagnosis or decisions about treatment and therefore specialist diagnostic qualifications are unnecessary.  However a customer may submit evidence from their doctor or specialist if appropriate.

The total cost of these services amounts to approximately £100 million per annum. This figure not only covers the total number of examinations undertaken across all benefits, but also costs relating to written and verbal medical advice, fixed overheads, administrative costs, investment in new technology and other service improvements.

If you have any queries about this letter please contact me quoting the reference number above.

Yours sincerely

xxxxx xxx

Freedom of Information Officer

————————————————————————————————— Your right to complain under the Freedom of Information Act

If you are not happy with this response you may request an internal review by e-mailing freedom-of-information-request@dwp.gsi.gov.uk. or by writing to DWP, Central FoI Team, 5th Floor The Adelphi, 1-11, John Adam Street, London WC2N 6HT. Any review request should be submitted within two months of the date of this letter.

If you are not content with the outcome of the internal review you may apply directly to the Information Commissioner’s Office for a decision. Generally the Commissioner cannot make a decision unless you have exhausted our own complaints procedure.

The Information Commissioner can be contacted at: The Information Commissioner’s Office, Wycliffe House, Water Lane, Wilmslow Cheshire SK9 5AF www.ico.gov.uk

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19 responses to “Exclusive: Benefit checks to cost £100m a year

  1. ConcernedReader

    How dare you sit on this for so long, you cynical opportunist news hound!

    Good on you for revealing the dawning reality of the ConDem’s disdain for their imagined ‘underclass’ though.

    It’s too easy to call this kind of nonsense Orwellian but, come on: the ‘Decision Maker’ whose authority is bestowed by the shadowy ‘Atos Healthcare.’ This from their website: “Through the introduction of the new Employment and Support Allowance, we work closely with the DWP to support its agenda of ‘Work for those who can and support for those who cannot’.” Is it so much of a leap to read – ‘helping to get scroungers off benefits?’

    Painfully ideological and misanthropic. Hurrah for 2011.

  2. It’s even worse than that. Of the current 2.65 million people receiving Incapacity Benefit, 1.25 million ALSO receive Disability Living Allowance. DLA is to be ‘reformed’ out of existence into PIP come 2013, the personal independence payment, with added conditionality and testing (undeserving of the term ‘medicals’). This means 1.25 million of my fellow IB recipients and myself get to repeat the whole ATOS assessment process **TWICE** in the next three years. Way to save money guys…

    (And in parliamentary questions IDS said that they expect to be migrating 1.5 million people currently on IB across to ESA via ATOS assessments. I’m wondering what happens to the other missing million .)

  3. How does “the assessment is not concerned with diagnosis or decisions about treatment and therefore specialist diagnostic qualifications are unnecessary” square with “the Work Capability Assessment… assesses what you can do, rather than what you cannot, and identifies the health-related support you might need”? How can they identify necessary support if they don’t possess specialist qualifications?

    (Of course, in practice, I’ve yet to track down anyone who has actually received any kind of identification of health-related support. Nonetheless, I have a strong sense that this whole process is riven through with the kind of dishonesty that in any other sphere would trigger a massive fraud investigation.)

  4. http://www.dwp.gov.uk/docs/wca-review-2010.pdf
    Harrington Report saying that ATOS and DWP not assessing cases fairly
    http://forums.moneysavingexpert.com/showthread.php?t=2616649
    People are being turned down by ATOS then appealing and winning the appeal then being immediately recalled for another assessment.
    DWP as seen in the Harrington report, take just the results of ATOS to make their decisions and letters from GP’s and hospital consultants are ignored.
    http://www.benefitsandwork.co.uk/forum?func=view&catid=13&id=36151
    http://wheresthebenefit.blogspot.com/2010/12/dla-reform-proposals-great-expectations.html
    Bit more information to be going on with
    http://www.facebook.com/index.php?lh=81e39c64e689463fef8efdcd841d49c6&#!/blacktriangle1
    The information is out there and much of it in government documents. The only thing that is not available is the computer tick box system that ATOS use which is designed to word things in the best possible light re working so has come up in one report of someone having a mild case of an amputated arm.

  5. They will never reveal the true costings for this, the £100m is just the DWP side of things, and does not include the money paid to Atos (currently over £3.5bn per year Source: The Guardian document) for the Medical Services which is what their contract provides. Atos should be forced to provide more detailed costings and data about their performance but we will never know because private contractors to the governments departments are exempt under current FoI Act legislation. If people knew even half of the suspected errors and cock ups Atos makes I suspect MPs would soon be calling for their contract to be terminated. What is also worrying is the fact that Atos Origin to give its full name, is also a major defence contractor and has lucrative contracts in such sensitive places as The Ministry of Justice to name but two.
    Its about time they got the undercover treatment by the media don’t you think? What would we find do you think?

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  7. Please, please, please, don’t just blog about this – write to the editor of the Guardian with this information and ask them to put an article on the front page where it will get the attention it deserves!

    Include your sources etc and also perhaps include the info in ians12’s post above if it can be verified (ie. “the £100m is just the DWP side of things, and does not include the money paid to Atos (currently over £3.5bn per year Source: The Guardian document) for the Medical Services which is what their contract provides. Atos should be forced to provide more detailed costings and data about their performance but we will never know because private contractors to the governments departments are exempt under current FoI Act legislation. If people knew even half of the suspected errors and cock ups Atos makes I suspect MPs would soon be calling for their contract to be terminated. What is also worrying is the fact that Atos Origin to give its full name, is also a major defence contractor and has lucrative contracts in such sensitive places as The Ministry of Justice to name but two”).

    Let’s get this out into the public domain and let people read what is actually going on!!

  8. Totally agree with previous poster. Dont keep this info to yourself. With your permission I would like to copy a part and link back to you.

    People need to know what is going on

    • Absolutely have my permission, as long as you link back. As I explained in an email to Fiona I have pitched this story to both the Indy and The Guardian and they were not interested. That is why I have decided to publish it here. Hopefully it will gain some momentum. If anyone knows anyone at any paper that might be interested in the story please let me know. joseph dot dyke at gmail dot com

  9. Thanks for passing this information on, think how better spent that money could be, all the servies it could save.

  10. The £3.5bn figure is in this spreadsheet (obtained by The Guardian)

    https://docs.google.com/leaf?id=0B4nYZs4MzlZbNDZkYzgzMmUtMGIyNy00MDM0LTkxODQtMjAyOTNiZTMyZTFh&hl=en&pli=1

    The DWP cannot reveal details about what exactly Atos does with it though, they are a private company and are only contractors to the DWP.

  11. Perhaps you should ask the DWP for the staff/admin/etc costs of reconsidering decisions and appeals .

    Ask also the tribunal service for their costs for appeals.

    The success rate for claimaints at IB appeals is somewhere around 60 percent (off the top of my head) and ESA appeals is 40 percent.

    Ask the DWP also, how much money they have to pay in backdated benefits to people who win their appeals.

  12. itsallovernowba

    Hi. Isuffer from mental and physical problems.
    After receiving a letter from medical services informing me that i should attend a medical I phoned them and explained that I suffer from agorophobia and that it would be impossible for me to make my way to the town centre. They told me that I need to get my Doctor to fax a letter to them. My Dr. informed them that I suffer from severe anxiety and that I need a home assesment.
    I have just received a letter from Medical services telling me that my request for a home visit has been denied and should I not turn up for the medical my benefit will be stopped . I would appreciate any advice. Thanks

    • I agree with Ian. Who is your MP? Also the local press. Are you saying that your doctor wont give you the fax?

      You should also get a letter from your doctor saying you need a home assessment and send that to them.
      And mostly dont give up. Where are you based?

      • The Press rarely get involved were a case may go to court but its worth a try.

        Your MP however can write directly to the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith.

      • itsallovernowba, or your rep, may find the following Commissioners Decision useful:-

        http://www.osscsc.gov.uk/judgmentfiles/j985/cib%202751%202002.doc

        Note especially para 23.

        “23 The April appeal is one of a narrow band of cases coming to appeal tribunals where (a) the claimant makes an application for a domiciliary hearing supported by medical and other supporting evidence, (b) the medical and other supporting evidence puts the claimant’s disabilities directly in issue both as to the decision under appeal and as to the attendance at the tribunal, and (c) an oral hearing would normally include a medical examination of the claimant. In those cases, the decision about a domiciliary hearing may confront the tribunal with a dilemma. If it refuses the domiciliary hearing, it may thereby prevent itself from both receiving and evaluating the claimant’s full evidence about the dispute that forms the substance of the appeal. In that narrow band of cases, a tribunal must think carefully about its procedure, including whether there are other ways of redressing both the failure to receive the claimant’s oral evidence and the failure to examine the claimant. For example, it might obtain a new consultant’s report or report from a general practitioner or other independent evidence, or (in future cases) it might consider using a video link. Alternatively it might invoke its powers to determine a matter of special difficulty. If so, section 7(4) of the Social Security Act 1998 allows the tribunal to require another medical member to provide assistance to the tribunal in dealing with the question. That medical member could visit the claimant and then advise the tribunal, so avoiding the full tribunal having to attend the claimant’s home.”

        So its not that cleat cut that they can simply refuse to attend you at home. Although this refers to a tribunal hearing and you are not at that stage yet, the same principles apply, I think.

  13. Ask your MP to write to them.

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