EXCLUSIVE: Atos and Maximus had their PIP and ESA contracts extended for the second time despite accusations they’re running a “failing” welfare system. Now the eye-watering cost to taxpayers can be revealed
Tory ministers are quietly handing private firms an extra £630million to test sick and disabled people for benefits – despite an avalanche of complaints.
Welfare chiefs are accused of “rewarding failure” after they extended contracts with corporate giants Atos and Maximus without going out to tender.
The firms’ deals to assess people for Personal Independence Payments (PIP) and Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) were each extended in recent months to July 2021.
Now the eye-watering cost has been confirmed by the Department for Work and Pensions, which slipped the details online without fanfare late last Friday.
The documents said extending Atos’ PIP contract by two years would cost taxpayers up to £394.7m, while the ESA contract – run by a subsidiary of Maximus – would cost up to £236.4m for a 16-month extension.
In total, DWP chiefs have approved up to £631.1m on the two contracts put together.
It was the second time each firm had its contract extended by the DWP despite an outcry over the “failing” privately-run tests.
Last June Atos was warned to “start delivering or else” by MPs on the powerful Work and Pensions Committee.
And 74% of ESA tests and 73% of PIP tests that went to appeal in the last three months of 2018 were overturned, the highest rate on record.
Yet the corporate giants will now have enjoyed their lucrative contracts for eight and seven years respectively by the time they finally come up for renewal.
The DWP said the contracts were extended to ensure “stability” while it redesigns the assessment process to make it better for claimants long term.
When she announced the move in March, DWP chief Amber Rudd argued it would pave the way for “a more joined-up claimant experience” in future.
But Genevieve Edwards, of the MS Society, branded the extensions a “kick in the teeth” for people claiming PIP for the “painful and exhausting” condition.
She said: “We’ve been told all too frequently that assessors don’t understand MS and the process doesn’t capture the reality of living with it.
“It’s nonsensical to reward this lack of understanding and failing system with extra millions of pounds, when what is really needed is an overhaul so people don’t have to fight to get the support they need.”
Atos delivers the majority of PIP assessments under the name Independent Assessment Services (IAS) through a contract it has held since 2013.
ESA assessments have been delivered since October 2014 by a firm called The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments Ltd (CHDA) – whose parent corporation is US outsourcing giant Maximus.
Capita also has a PIP assessments contract, which is also being extended, but talks are ongoing over the details.
Labour’s Shadow Minister for Disabled People Marsha De Cordova said: “It is scandalous that hundreds of millions of pounds more have been handed over to private companies, such as Atos and CHDA, that are wreaking havoc on disabled people’s lives.
“By extending these contracts, this Tory government has once again shown its disregard for the appalling inaccuracies of outsourced assessments for PIP and ESA, which have had a devastating impact on so many disabled people.
” Labour will end the hostile environment that these assessments have created and bring them in house.”
The data was uploaded last Friday to the DWP’s website but then removed on Monday – following the Mirror’s enquiries – with officials claiming parts were “inaccurate”.
Despite the removal a DWP spokeswoman told the Mirror today that the data was in fact accurate.
It’s understood the price tag is a maximum budget and could end up being less.
A DWP spokeswoman confirmed: “These figures refer to the previously announced extensions of the PIP and HDAS contracts to 2021, and not to any additional extensions or new costs.
“We’re committed to providing the best possible service for disabled people, which is why we’re continually improving the assessment process for PIP and ESA.
“We regularly monitor our assessment providers to ensure they are delivering against the high standards we expect.”
A spokesman for CHDA, whose parent firm is Maximus, said, “We are pleased to be continuing our partnership with DWP to deliver the Health Assessment Advisory Service.
“Since taking over the service we have fundamentally improved the experience for those we assess.
“The time spent in the assessment process has more than halved, we have doubled the number of clinical staff working in the service and consistently met the majority of our performance targets.
“We will continue to work in partnership with charities and disabled people’s organisations to improve the service further.”
A spokesman for Atos’ IAS said: “We are absolutely committed to providing a professional and compassionate service for every claimant.
“And as we continue to work with the DWP and listen to all feedback with a clear focus on achieving this, we shall also make continuous improvements.”