The assessment for people claiming sickness benefit will be overhauled after an independent review found that it was characterised by poor decision-making and a lack of transparency.
The work capability assessment has been roundly criticised by disability campaigners for wrongly finding people fit for work, rather than eligible for employment and support allowance, which is claimed by people unable to work or requiring extra support to return to employment due to disability or ill-health.
The independent review by Professor Malcolm Harrington said there was much “negativity” surrounding the WCA and concluded that the system “can be impersonal and mechanistic, that the process lacks transparency and that a lack of communication between the various parties involved contributes to poor decision making”.
Harrington made 25 recommendations for reform, 21 of which have been accepted by the government with the other four being under consideration.
Key recommendations accepted by government include:-
- That assessments carried out by independent contractor Atos should be more transparent, with claimants sent a personalised summary of the assessor’s recommendations, and audio assessments piloted.
- Specialists in assessing mental, cognitive and intellectual impairments will be present in each assessment centre to ensure these needs are assessed appropriately.
- Claimants will be able to make a personal statement about their needs in the questionnaire they fill in to support their claim.
- All written communications with claimants should be reviewed to ensure they are less threatening or jargonistic.
- There should be better communication between Atos assessors and Jobcentre Plus staff who determine eligibility, in borderline cases.
- Jobcentre Plus decision makers should seek further evidence from healthcare professionals following an Atos assessment as required.
Assessment that fails its own test