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ATOS exits Work Capability Assessment contract

Chris Satori
Thousands of white carnations were laid out in Parliament Square last September,
 representing the alleged 10,000 dead as a result of benefits cuts
after Work Capabilty Assessments carried out on contract by ATOS.

The coalition government has today announced an early exit from its £5 million Work Capability Assessment contract with Atos Healthcare, which was criticised locally after services counted the cost of the French company's,  and Department of Work and Pensions, failings.

Atos was reported to be in talks to quit its contract to carry out work capability assessments for the Department of Work and Pensions early after its staff received regular death threats.

In a written Ministerial Statement issued today the Coalition Government's Minister for Disabled People, Mike Penning MP said:

"Today I am announcing that following detailed negotiations with Atos, the Government has reached a settlement for Atos to exit the contract to deliver Work Capability Assessments before it is due to end in August 2015.

"I am pleased to confirm that Atos will not receive a single penny of compensation from the taxpayer for the early termination of their contract, quite the contrary, I can also confirm that Atos has made a substantial financial settlement to the Department for Work and Pensions.

"It is important to outline that we have learnt from the mistakes of the last contract agreed by the previous government. We have negotiated an agreement covering the remaining term that is more robust, with an agreed performance regime that gives us confidence delivery goals will be achieved. It is that same commercial rigour that will underpin the new procurement for these services that I am announcing today.

"The plan is for the new contract to be awarded later this year, with a view to the new provider taking responsibility for delivery of Work Capability Assessments by 2015.

"It is expected that the Transfer of Undertakings Protection of Employment regulations will apply and most of the Atos employees will transfer to the new provider. The new provider should therefore be able to step into the contract without disrupting the service. My absolute priority for the new provider will be to deliver the best service possible for claimants, increase the volume of assessments carried out and reduce waiting times. In the meantime, we will focus on delivery of assessments for those making new claims and those who have changes in their condition.

"Atos is announcing today that the company will be withdrawing from delivery of Work Capability Assessments in Great Britain (Atos will continue to deliver these assessments under its separate contract in Northern Ireland). Atos will continue to deliver Personal Independence Payment assessments in two regions of Great Britain.

"Atos will continue to deliver Work Capability Assessments until contract exit and will be subject to a rigorous quality and service credit regime. To that end, I am appointing a remedial advisory team to work with the Atos Healthcare management during this period to assist Atos in meeting their contractual obligations, ahead of awarding the contract to a new provider. This is being accomplished with the full cooperation of Atos who will meet all related costs.

"There is strong evidence that work is good for physical and mental well-being, and that being out of work can contribute to poorer health and other negative outcomes. While we will always support people who genuinely cannot work, this Government is committed to getting as many people as possible into work. Notwithstanding the considerable improvements that we have had to make to the Work Capability Assessment process we inherited, our reforms mean that over 650,000 people are now looking for, or preparing for, work. I am committed to ensuring that the assessments are fair and accurate and, together with robust contract management, the recommendations made by Dr Litchfield in his independent review will help us continue to improve the Work Capability Assessment."

• You can download a pdf  of the full statement (which is longer and notes that the contract was inherited from the previous Labour government), from the Parliament Website.

The news is likely to be welcomed by local disability groups and advocacy services, albeit with some trepidition about what the new contract might bring.

Atos has been criticised for its 'miraculous' findings of fitness for work in individuals who were gravely or terminally ill, or severely incapacitated, who immediately lost their disability or sickness benefits and told to return to employment and its predatory 'cycling' of vulnerable people, breaking them down with an endlessly repeated, complex and sometimes quota-dominated process of reassessment and appeal.

Thousands of white carnations were laid out in London's Parliament Square last September,  representing the alleged 10,000 dead as a result of benefits cuts after Work Capabilty Assessments carried out on contract by ATOS. Several demonstrations have taken place outside Mitre House in Lancaster, where Atos has its local office.

Atos has claimed that it was simply implementing government policy as laid down by the DWP in its contract. However as the contractor's public profile has deteriorated the DWP has become increasingly distant.

According to Wikipedia, other UK government contracts currently held by Atos include:
 - A £300m (Atos Origin Alliance (AOA)) contract with NHS Scotland in November 2006.
 - A £100m contract with the Home Office (a six-year deal ending in 2016)
 - A £70 million contract with the Welsh Government to provide Information and Communications Technology (ICT) services
 - A £25m contract with the Ministry of Defence to provide defence communications services[27]
 - A 5-year £75 million deal with the National Health Service to provide an integrated IT desktop service
 - A £140 million deal for IT provision at the UK Nuclear Decommissioning Authority
 - A multimillion outsourcing contract to National Savings & Investments (NS&I) to deliver customer-facing and back office services to NS&I’s 25 million customers.

See Previous Items:
Local services count the cost of ATOS / DWP failings
ATOS retreats in the face of nationwide protests
Nationwide Demonstration Against ATOS at Mitre House