Atos is trying to exit its disability testing contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) early as the controversial contract enters its final 18 months.
Atos Healthcare tests disability benefits claimants to determine whether people are eligible. The company has been heavily criticised for the way it carries out tests by campaign groups and a government report in 2011 found that tens of thousands of sick and disabled people had been wrongly declared fit for work. Appeals against these decisions cost the taxpayer around £50m a year.
In July 2013 the DWP decided to use more suppliers alongside Atos Healthcare to administer the work capability assessment (WCA). Atos was told to improve by the DWP.
Atos has confirmed it is looking to cut short its £500m government contract for assessing whether benefits claimants are fit to work, but said it would carry on undertaking the tests until a new company was in a position to take over.
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“For several months now, we have been endeavouring to agree an early exit from the work capability assessment contract, which is due to expire in August 2015,” said Atos Healthcare. “Despite these ongoing discussions, we will not walk away from a front-line service. Our total focus remains on delivering the services we are contracted to provide in a professional and compassionate way until a new service begins.”
Atos Healthcare uses logic integrated medical assessment (LiMA) software to support medical professionals when assessing claimants. Campaigners have claimed for years that many people have had their benefits cut inappropriately because of the system Atos uses when assessing them.
The deal has done nothing for the public perception of the company. Reports claim that there were 163 incidents of abuse or assault on staff each month last year.
In 2011, two Atos Healthcare employees were investigated over allegations that they made inappropriate remarks on Facebook about the people they assess for sickness and disability benefits, referring to them as "parasites" and "down and outs".