Capita condemned for ‘abuse of public funds’ as hated benefit assessment firm attempts to overturn court ruling.
A private firm is heading to court in a bid to reverse a legal decision that is says has caused the company “reputational damage”, following the tragic death of a disabled benefit claimant.
Capita, who were recently awarded an extension to its contract with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) despite widespread criticism, conducts assessment for the disability benefit Personal Independence Payment (PIP), which is replacing Disability Living Allowance for all disabled adults.
The widely hated and condemned benefit assessment outsourcing company was ordered to pay damages, after the mother of a benefit claimant who died shortly after being refused PIP accused a Capita benefits assessor of effectively lying in a report sent to the DWP.
Victoria Smith, 33, who suffered from Fibromyalgia and agoraphobia, as well as other medical issues, died of a brain haemorrhage in July 2018, but doctors said her health deteriorated soon after the cruel decision to stop her disability benefit.
The court agreed that Capita were guilty of ‘maladministration’ and ordered the private assessment firm to pay £10,000 in damages to the deceased woman’s family.
But Capita says they weren’t able to properly defend themselves during the court hearing due to problems with its own internal mail system, and that because of this the original decision should be reversed and the case reheard.
BBC News reports that Capita “acknowledges that it has not been able to explain the default and therefore cannot provide a good reason for it” in papers submitted to the appeal court.
They add that the firm’s apparent failure to respond to court requests/messages were “entirely innocent and inadvertent”, because of issues with its internal mail system.
The papers also suggested that the court may be guilty of “prejudice to Capita” if it failed to consider the company’s appeal.
“Capita has been on the receiving end of significant negative press which suggests that it has been held liable following a successful claim by the claimant,” the court papers said.
“This causes significant reputational damage to Capita’s business.”
Duncan Walker, a welfare rights adviser from Unite the union, who has been supporting Victoria’s mother Mrs Kemlo in her ongoing legal battle, blasted Capita’s crude attempt to overturn the court ruling.
“In the tragic case of Victoria, this was just one more example of shocking maladministration by Capita at public expense”, he told BBC News.
“Every PIP case undertaken by Unite members in Stoke-on-Trent with the specific health care professional in Victoria’s case has been overturned by the social security tribunals.
“It is an abuse of public funds and plainly wrong that such reports are presented as fact and a shameful indictment of the government welfare reform ideology clearly persecuting disabled and vulnerable people.”
With many thanks to the: Welfare Weekly and Stephen Preece for the original story
Part of plan to ‘transition’ to a new IT system
The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions has handed Capita £112m for a two-year extension to the controversial Personal Independence Payment (PIP) assessments contract.
The outsourcer has also been awarded £33m to extend its PIP assessment contract with the Department of Communities in Northern Ireland for the same amount of time.
PIP, which replaced the Disability Living Allowance in 2013, is designed to help people with a long-term condition or disability lead independent lives by providing additional financial support.
Along with Atos, Capita was first awarded the deal in 2013 estimated to be worth a total of £512m to mid-2017.
However, along with the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) contract, PIP has repeatedly come under fire for making inaccurate and incomplete assessments.
Last year, the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee said the decision to contract out both PIP and the ESA was driven by a perceived need to introduce efficient, consistent and objective tests for benefit eligibility.
“It is hard to see how these objectives have been met. None of the providers has ever hit the quality performance targets required of them, and many claimants experience a great deal of anxiety over assessments,” it said.
In June 2018, minister of state for disabled people Sarah Newton said the government was seeking a two-year extension to “better allow for a stable transition” to a new provision. In a ministerial statement, she acknowledged there is “still more to do to deliver the high quality of service those claiming PIP rightly expect”.
She added: “At the same time we will look to enable more providers to deliver PIP by developing a DWP-owned IT system.”
The government accepted the key finding by the Work and Pensions Committee (PDF) to make video recording of assessment interviews a standard part of the process. It also recommended greater online support, including chat and interactive media, or a “dashboard” to keep claimants updated on their claim.
Jon Lewis, chief executive of Capita, said of the contract win: “These contract extensions are testament to the commitment of our healthcare team, our consistently strong operational performance, and the strength of our longstanding relationship with government.”
With many thanks to: The Register and Kate Hall for the original story
Secretary of State accused of treating tragic Liverpool man like ‘a lost package’ after internal review
An investigation into the treatment of six-stone Stephen Smith – who was wrongly denied benefits before his death – has shockingly found that the DWP ‘followed policy’.
The 64-year-old Liverpool man was repeatedly and incorrectly turned down for benefits while suffering with a number of serious illnesses before his death.
Mr Smith, from Kensington, died a short time after he was forced to get a pass out from hospital to overturn an incorrect decision to deprive him of vital benefits for several years.
His range of debilitating illnesses meant that he had to fight the tribunal against the DWP weighing just six-stone and looking painfully malnourished.
After the decisions were overturned, Mr Smith was eventually paid back around £4,000 that he had wrongly been denied.
But the award came too late – and instead of using the money to live on, it was used for his funeral after his death in April.
Following his death – the ECHO published two doctors notes that had warned the DWP that Mr Smith was not fit for work, but were ignored.
There have been widespread calls for an independent inquiry into his treatment, including from Birkenhead MP and Work and Pensions Committee chair Frank Field.
He wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd who would not grant a full inquiry – instead only ordering an internal DWP review.
The results of that review have now been revealed.
Writing to Mr Field, Ms Rudd states: “This review has now concluded and shows that whilst the policy guidance was followed in Mr Smith’s case, there were crucial safeguarding opportunities which were missed by the Department.
“The review has identified areas where we need to change our policy and we will be implementing these changes to ensure our most vulnerable claimants are protected.”
The letter states that the changes will include:
– Identifying other trigger points for information sharing between lines to improve, join up and provide more holistic support
-Improving awareness across benefit lines of how new awards to or changes in benefit entitlement can materially affect other benefits in payment or under appeal – and encouraging or requiring staff to look for an act on these these links.
– Identifying the opportunities to embed these recommendations effectively and quickly across multiple customer journeys
Ms Rudd wrote: “The Department will be working at pace to ensure that these are embedded and that vulnerable claimants are receiving the best possible support from the Department. I am adamant that we will learn important lessons from this tragic case and make changes to protect people like Mr Smith in future.”
Mr Field was seriously unimpressed with the lack of humanity and abundance of jargon in a response about the death of a man so clearly failed by the system.
He told the ECHO: “‘This letter heavily disguises the fact that we’re talking about a man who lost his life, not a package that got lost within the DWP.
“I’m coming back to cause a murder”
Council houses being built once again
“It sums up much of what’s wrong with the DWP, which is apparently very short on human sympathy.
“What kind of policy guidance is it that fails to recognise that somebody is seriously ill and dying?’
Stephen was only able to win back the benefits that were rightfully his
With many thanks to the: Liverpool Echo for the original story
Follow this link to find out more how the DWP and the Tory government are treating our disabled: https://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/guards-lock-activists-inside-dwp-hq-during-universal-credit-whitewash-action/
The legal cost of reassessing applications for And Payments (PIPs) in Northern Ireland has soared to almost £5m, with thousands of appeal cases yet to be heard by a tribunal.
The Department for Communities (DfC) has confirmed that the cost of three tribunal panels has reached £4,907,294 since the controversial benefit payments were introduced in 2016.
The disclosure was made in response to a Freedom of Information request by DUP MLA Carla Lockhart.
The department also revealed that almost 5,600 appeal cases which were adjourned have been relisted for hearing – which means the bill is set to rise even higher.
Mrs Lockhart has called for a complete overhaul of the process in light of the “scandalous” cost.
“There needs to be a root-and-branch review of how these awards are determined,” she said.
“The exuberant cost is unjustifiable and scandalous.
“This money should be going to the most vulnerable in our society.”
Statistics show that 193,990 PIP applications have been made as of February this year, with 88% already processed.
But of the 171,750 cases dealt with, 32% were refused payments, resulting in a total of 48,880 appeals.
Over 9,000 decisions have so far been amended as a result of the mandatory reconsideration process which is still ongoing.
This accounts for around a fifth (19.4%) of appeals which have been processed to date.
Mrs Lockhart said she has heard many “horror stories” of people suffering from lifelong illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease, who have been declined PIPs.
Some individuals who were awarded zero points have waited as long as eight months for their appeal to be heard.
“I also know a man with prostate cancer who suffers severe back problems – he has just launched an appeal after being awarded zero points despite his doctor saying he is not fit to work,” Mrs Lockhart said.
“One woman with COPD who was in receipt of high-rate Disability Living Allowance is also appealing after being awarded zero points.
“I am disgusted at how some people are being treated.”
The Upper Bann representative claimed that arguments about whether or not solicitors on the tribunal are qualified to properly interpret medical notes has held up hearings, which often run on for hours longer than scheduled.
“Many cases have been adjourned over a whole legal wrangle about whether legal experts are indemnified to read medical documents,” Mrs Lockhart added.
The MLA also claimed that GPs are becoming more reluctant to give notes to patients who are expected to provide the documents at the appeal hearing, giving the panel a chance to read them for the first time.
“I welcome a robust system to prevent abuse, but it must be client-focused,” she said.
“Just a few tweaks to this intrusive and intimidating system could reduce costs significantly.
“Medical notes are key and they are being scrutinised far too late in the process.”
The DfC did not respond with comment.
Last year Walter Rader, who was commissioned by the department to review its process, found that “a rigid one-size-fits-all” privatised assessment cannot respond to the needs of all claimants.
According to the DfC website, 67% of all claims have been awarded, with the average processing time taking 12 weeks.
It also states that 78% of DLA reassessments have been successfully approved, with 41% of all awards allocated to people whose main disability is psychiatric disorder.
With many thanks to the: Belfast Telegraph and Brett Campbell for the original story