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ATOS and DWP to be held to account / 9 February 2014

The National Audit Office (NAO) are to launch a new investigation into ATOS Healthcare, the company that carries out controversial medical tests for people claiming sickness and disability benefits when it emerged that they've been paid £754m since 2005.

In a House of Lords question this week Lord Alton of Liverpool asked the NAO to investigate the reason behind such a large amount being paid to ATOS by the Department for Works and Pensions (DWP).  

Lord Alton said: “The Atos contract with the Government has become like a licence to print money. Astronomical sums are involved. Worrying questions have arisen about whether the terms of the company's tender have been met; whether performance matches promise; and whether a project undertaken on the pretext of giving value for money has done so. When millions of pounds of public money is being diverted to private companies, it is crucial that there is accountability, transparency, and public confidence. I welcome the NAO's decision to scrutinise the ATOS contract and think the Public Accounts Committee should ask ATOS and the DWP to appear before them."

Stephen Timms,  Labour’s employment  spokesman, said: “This  Government has been warned time and again to get a grip of this contract, but the truth is Iain Duncan Smith [the Work and Pensions Secretary] has let ATOS spin out of control and the taxpayer and vulnerable people are picking up the pieces.  Anyone taking the Work Capacity Assessment  today is now eight  times more likely to end up in a tribunal than a job and the cost of those appeals has soared by 40 per cent  in the last year alone. Ministers have got to fix this mess – fast.”

Some 40 per cent of people claiming incapacity benefit  appealed against its rulings (costing the government a further £500 million) and 38 per cent of them were successful. Despite that, the company won a further contract to assess the new personal  independence payments for disabled people.  The Government has been criticised by MPs for allowing a virtual monopoly to develop.