The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has spent more than £100m in just over two years on administering reviews and appeals against disability benefits, figures show.
Tens of millions of pounds a year are also spent by the Ministry of Justice on the appeals, about two-thirds of which were won by claimants in the past 12 months.
The costs were described as “staggering” and a former Conservative minister said “something is seriously wrong with the system”.
The DWP said a small proportion of decisions were overturned and most employment and support allowance and personal independence payment claimants were happy with their assessments. (However, please see: Summary of key problems with the DWP’s recent survey of claimant satisfaction.)
But the department is facing questions from the work and pensions select committee over the figures, following claims that it was not given similar information for MPs’ inquiry into PIP and ESA.
Figures obtained through a freedom of information request show the DWP has spent £108.1m on direct staffing costs for ESA and PIP appeals since October 2015.
“Thousands of disabled individuals have had to fight to receive support to which they are legally entitled.”
Since October 2015, 87,500 PIP claimants had their decision changed at mandatory reconsideration, while 91,587 others won their appeals at tribunal.
In the first half of 2017-18, 66% of 42,741 PIP appeals went in the claimant’s favour.
The figures for ESA since October 2015 show 47,000 people had decisions revised at mandatory reconsideration and 82,219 appeals went in the claimant’s favour.
So far in 2017-18, 68% of 35,452 ESA appeals have gone in favour of the claimant.
Ros Altmann, a Conservative peer and former DWP minister, said the money could be spent on benefits for those who need them, rather than the costs of fighting claims.
Figures released to the select committee inquiry show further costs to taxpayers.
The Ministry of Justice spent £103.1m on social security and child support tribunals in 2016-17, up from £92.6m the year before.
In a letter to the committee, the then justice minister Dominic Raab said the average cost of an appeal had more than doubled to £579 in 2014-15 because PIP cases “now comprise a much larger proportion of the caseload” and require more members on the tribunal.
The MPs are due to publish the results of their inquiry on Wednesday.
Frank Field, the committee chairman, has written to Esther McVey, the work and pensions secretary, to ask why MPs were not given the information.
The DWP gave the committee the average cost of a mandatory reconsideration and appeal for PIP and ESA, but Field said it was unable to work out the full cost because information on whether PIP appeals were from new claimants or those being reassessed, which have different costs, was not available.
“That this data was provided in response to an FoI request, but not for our report, is doubly regrettable, since the key theme of our report is the need to introduce much greater trust and transparency into the PIP and ESA systems,” Field wrote.
A DWP spokeswoman said it was working to improve the process, including recruiting about 190 officers who will attend PIP and ESA appeals to provide feedback on decisions.
“We’ve already commissioned five independent reviews of the work capability assessment, implementing more than 100 of their recommendations, and two independent reviews of PIP assessments,” she said.
“Meanwhile, we continue to spend more than £50bn a year on supporting people with disabilities and health conditions.”
I’ll add to this, however, that according to the Office for National Statsitics (ONS) spending on sickness and disability, combined with social care costs was £53,275bn for 2016/17. Sickness and disability benefit spending was £43,545bn, and personal social services was 9,730bn.
The National Audit Office (NAO) scrutinises public spending for Parliament and is independent of government. An audit report in 2016 concluded that the Department for Work and Pension’s spending on contracts for disability benefit assessments was expected to double in 2016/17 compared with 2014/15. The government’s flagship welfare-cut scheme will be actually spending more money on the assessments themselves than it is saving in reductions to the benefits bill – as Frances Ryan pointed out in the Guardian, it’s the political equivalent of burning bundles of £50 notes.
The report also states that only half of all the doctors and nurses hired by Maximus – the US outsourcing company brought in by the Department for Work and Pensions to carry out the assessments – had even completed their training.
The NAO report summarises:
Million assessments completed in five years up to March 2015
Estimated increase in cost per ESA assessment based on published information after transfer of the service in 2015 (from £115 to £190)
Estimated increase in healthcare professionals across contracts from 2,200 in May 2015 to 4,050 November 2016
Estimated cost of contracted-out health and disability assessments over three years, 2015 to 2018
Latest expected reduction in annual disability benefit spending
Proportion of ESA and PIP targets met for assessment report quality meeting contractual standard (September 2014 to August 2015).
This summary reflects staggering economic incompetence, a flagrant, politically motivated waste of tax payers money and even worse, the higher spending has not created a competent or ethical assessment framework, nor is it improving the lives of sick and disabled people.
The National Audit Office (NAO) found last year that the number of completed ESA assessments were below target, despite an expected doubling of the cost to the taxpayer of the contracts for disability benefit assessments, to £579m a year in 2016/17compared with 2014/15.
The NAO said that nearly 1 in 10 of the reports on disabled people claiming support were rejected as below standard by the government. This compares with around one in 25 before Atos left its contract.
The provider was not on track to complete the number of assessments expected last year and has also missed assessment report quality targets.
Atos abandoned its contract early following mounting evidence that hundreds of thousands of ill and disabled people have been wrongly judged to be fit for work and ineligible for government support.
The proportion of Capita PIP tests deemed unacceptable reached a peak of 56% in the three months to April 2015.
For Atos, the peak was 29.1% for one lot in June 2014.
More than 2.7million people have had a DWP decision regarding PIP since the benefit launched in 2013 – this suggests that tens of thousands went through an ‘unacceptable’ assessment.
The PCS union, which represents lower paid workers at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), told MPs during the Work and Pensions Committee inquiry: “We do not believe that there is any real quality control.
“Our belief is that delivering the assessments in-house is the only effective way for DWP to guarantee the level of quality that is required.”
In evidence submitted to the Work and Pensions Committee, Capita said 95% of assessments are now deemed acceptable – giving the figure for the past year. The company said:
“This represents a significant improvement from previous years and producing quality reports for the DWP remains a top priority within Capita.”
“Additionally, we use a range of intelligence as indicators, to identify disability assessors who may not be operating at the high quality output levels we expect.
“This includes data from audit activity, coaching and monitoring.
“This enables us to continually monitor performance, and take appropriate internal actions… where necessary to ensure we continue to deliver a quality service.”
Atos claim that 95.4% of tests are now acceptable and more work was needed to ensure the auditing process itself is “consistent”, adding: “We strive to deliver fair and accurate assessment reports 100% of the time.”
It also emerged that Atos and Capita employ just FOUR doctors between them. Most employees within the companies are nurses, paramedics, physiotherapists or occupational therapists. Capita’s chief medical officer Dr Ian Gargan confessed he was just one of two doctors at the firm’s PIP division, which has 1,500 staff.
He told the Commons Work and Pensions Committee: “Two thirds of our professionals have a nursing background and the remainder are from occupational therapy, physiotherapy and paramedicine.”
Dr Barrie McKillop, clinical director of Atos’ PIP division, admitted they too only had two doctors among their staff.
Frank Field said: “You’ve got two doctors each, mega workload – maybe there’s a lot of doctors out there who would long for some part-time work.”
“You haven’t sought them out to raise your game, have you?”
However Dr McKillop insisted Atos’ current model “is a strong one” and people “bring clinical experience in different areas”.
The witnesses are: Simon Freeman, Managing Director, Capita Personal Independence Payments, Dr Ian Gargan, Chief Medical Officer, Capita Personal Independence Payments, David Haley, Chief Executive, Atos Independent Assessment Services and Dr Barrie McKillop, Clinical Director, Atos Independent Assessment Services.
You can access the written evidence here.
Many of us have been campaigning for reforms to the failing system – complaints about PIP rose by nearly 880 per cent last year – work and pensions inquiry report adds more pressure on the government to address a system that is failing so many people.
Since 2013 there have been 170,000 PIP appeals taken to the Tribunal: Claimants won in 108,000 cases – 63%. In the same time, there have been 53,000 ESA appeals. Claimants won in 32,000 – or 60% – of those cases.
Ministers have been citing statistics from a recent survey about satisfaction with Department for Work and Pensions services. However, I have critiqued the survey, and in particular, I faulted it because those claimants whose benefit had been disallowed by the Department were excluded from the survey. This means that the people most ikely to register their dissatisfaction with the Department in the survey were not allowed to participate.
I also found some statistics that are not fully or adequately discussed in the survey report – these were to be found tucked away in the Excel data tables which were referenced at the end of the report – and certainly not cited by Government ministers, are those particularly concerning problems and difficulties with the Department for Work and Pensions that arose for some claimants.
It’s worrying that 51 per cent of all respondents across all types of benefits who experienced difficulties or problems in their dealings with the Department for Work and Pensions did not see them resolved. A further 4 per cent saw only a partial resolution, and 3 per cent didn’t know if there had been any resolution.
– means the sample size is less than 40.
In the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) group, 50 per cent had unresolved problems with the Department, and in the Personal Independent Payment (PIP) group, 57 per cent of claimants had ongoing problems with the Department, while only 33 per cent have seen their problems resolved.
It is time that the Government stopped glossing over the fundamental problems with a system of assessment and decision making for disability benefits that is costing so much to administrate, it’s causing distress, hardship, and sometimes, it is costing people their lives. Fake statistics and PR designed surveys don’t hide the mounting evidence of the catastrophic impact that the Conservative reforms have had on many people.
The impact of the welfare reforms on disabled people has been brutal. More than a third of those who have had their benefit cut say they’re struggling to pay for food, rent and bills, while 40% say they’ve become more isolated as over 50,000 disabled people lost access to Motability vehicles.
To the government’s utter shame, they have claimed that this state of affairs is acceptable for the past 4 years. It never was, and it needs to change.