The National Audit Office has said that the Department of Work and Pensions has failed to penalise Atos for under-performance on the Work Capability Assessment and has failed to set the French multinational sufficiently challenging targets. In the past year Atos has been paid £122 million for carrying out the WCA, but a further £60 million has had to be spent on Tribunal cases appealing Atos judgements, 40% of which succeed. DWP has admitted that Atos performance has failed to meet agreed time limits and has been sub-standard since mid-2011.
The NAO also noted that DWP's failure to seek the reasons behind tribunal judgements mean that it is impossible to determine whether changes are required to the Work Capability Assessment and that its negotiating position is undermined by inaccurate forecasting of the number of people requiring an assessment, likely related to DWP's recent admission that people assigned into the ESA WRAG by the WCA are significantly more disabled than it forecast. Of the penalty clauses which have been triggered by Atos performance, DWP have claimed only 10% of the redress the taxpayer is entitled to.
A DWP spokesman claimed that they were committed to obtaining "value for money for the taxpayer", while an Atos spokesman said that the WCA contract was "complex and challenging".
The review was conducted by the NAO at the request of the Labour MP Tom Greatrex, who noted that the failure to claim redress and the tribunal costs mean that "The taxpayer is effectively paying for this service twice ... clearing up the mess that results from Atos assessments."
Given the Tory focus on applying 'private sector best practise' to government, the leniency being applied to Atos seems difficult to comprehend; no private company would simply let a failing subcontractor off with 90% of penalty clauses, while a stringent recovery plan would be demanded to deal with the failures rather than allow them to continue bumbling on without intervention.