The Work Capability Assessment (WCA) is the test through which the Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) determines entitlement to Employment & Support Allowance (ESA). It was introduced in 2008 and has been the source of considerable controversy since.
DWP outsourced the expertise it thought it needed to perform WCAs from a private company, Atos Healthcare, who in turn have recruited large numbers of healthcare professions (HCPs) – a combination of doctors, nurses and physiotherapists.
Although Atos HCPs perform WCAs and make a fit-for-work (FFW) recommendation to DWP, its own team of Decision Makers (DMs) make the final ESA decision. There is an appeal procedure that ends up with the Tribunals Service (TS).
40% of decisions reversed on appeal
The controversy exists at every level, but the most contentious aspect of the process has been the number of FFW decisions that have subsequently been reversed by the TS – generally accepted as around 40%).
The number of errors is bad enough in itself, but the issue has been compounded by the fact that appeals can take up to 10 months to be heard.
During this period, ESA is still paid, but at potentially a much reduced rate. If the decision is reversed, any money owed by DWP is backdated; if it is not DWP does not demand a rebate.
The huge number of appeals has inundated the TS, who are spending c£60m p.a. to address. All in all a very unsatisfactory situation largely brought about by the high first-time error rate.
One would therefore expect the right-first-time rate to be the definitive key performance indicator (KPI), through which the ongoing attempts to improve the process would be indisputably measured.
It is not a difficult calculation, but does involve a lengthy time lapse due to the long TS queue – another good reason for shortening it, but not a good enough reason for not closely monitoring this KPI.
However, in a wealth of information published and all sorts of claims of success by DWP & Atos, it is conspicuous by its absence. A Freedom of Information request has confirmed that DWP has not measured it, does not measure it and has no plans to measure it. One has to wonder why. A cynic might suggest they don’t really want to know.
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