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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