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Medical assessments chaos

Civil servants drafted in to help clear backlog of assessments under new system

Mark Gould

Monday, 07 April 2014

Civil servants have been drafted in to help a private company struggling to clear a backlog of medical assessments for payments to tens of thousands of terminally ill, sick and disabled people.

The Guardian reports that it has seen a letter in which a senior civil servant says the "one-off" step will be taken because Capita is failing to process the recently introduced personal independence payment (PIP) claims in time. Capita carries out around a quarter of all PIP assessments mainly in central England and Wales. It says it is employing more staff including health professionals to clear the backlog and extending the hours for carrying out assessments.

The benefit, worth between £21 and £134 a week, is meant to cover transport, care and other costs associated with being seriously sick or disabled. In the letter dated 20 March, DWP staff were told they would be drafted in for a "one-off exercise" to clear Capita's backlog. Work to reduce "the current backlog to a normal level of work … was now moving at pace", the letter said.

It added: "Ministers have also been very clear that they see the need to drive up PIP performance to an acceptable level as a key priority for the department."

In one of three steps to be trialled, the department will cut down on face-to-face referrals by getting its own staff to determine whether people are eligible for PIP using paper-only evidence.

"We are also considering whether DWP case managers could make more decisions earlier in the journey before formal referral" to Capita, the letter said.

In a statement Capita said: "We are working closely with the Department to improve the service, increasing capacity by taking on extra staff, including healthcare professionals, and extending the hours for carrying out assessments.

"We continue to deliver the assessments in a fair and objective way, providing high-quality reports to allow the Department to make its decision, and giving people the time they need to tell us how their disability affects them."

A DWP spokesperson said: "Ministers are committed to driving up PIP performance and we're in regular contact with our providers to do this, as you would expect.

"We've always said that where claimants have enough evidence they won't need to be seen in person. However, the majority of people will continue to have face-to-face assessments under the new benefit this government introduced, unlike the old system of disability living allowance where only around 6% were seen."

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