Atos Healthcare staff are increasingly coming under attack, source claims
Around 160 incidents of staff being assaulted or abused each month last year
- Atos has been in discussions about ending contract for 'several months'
The private firm that decides whether benefits claimants are fit for work has pulled out of its £500million contract after claiming its staff received death threats.
Atos Healthcare, which has been accused of making unfair decisions on when sick and disabled people lose benefits, was ordered to review its tests last summer after a government report found its assessors were of unacceptably poor quality.
But yesterday, sources in the French IT company claimed it was pulling out as its staff were increasingly coming under attack while carrying out their work.
Each month last year they recorded about 160 incidents of the public assaulting or abusing staff, the Financial Times reported.
Protests had erupted outside their offices this week, when staff received deaths threats in person and on Facebook and Twitter.
Examples on social networking sites include someone calling staff ‘murdering scumbags’, adding: ‘We won’t be smiling when we come to hang you b******s.’ Another said: ‘Know anyone who works for Atos? Kill them.’
The company has regularly come under fire over the assessments – which are used to gauge eligibility for employment and support allowance and incapacity benefit – amid claims people are being wrongly recommended for work or put through stressful medical interviews.
One third of its decisions have been overturned on appeal and the firm has become a lightning rod for Left-wing critics of the Government’s welfare reforms.
Atos Healthcare revealed it has been in discussions with officials for ‘several months’ about ending its work capability assessment contract, which was due to run until August 2015.
A spokesman insisted it would not ‘walk away’ from the contract and that it would continue to provide a service until new contractors had been appointed.
‘For several months now we have been endeavouring to agree an early exit from the work capability assessment contract,’ the spokesman said.
‘We will not walk away from a front-line service. Our focus remains on delivering the services we are contracted to provide in a professional and compassionate way until a new service begins.’
However, relations with the Department for Work and Pensions appear to be close to breakdown amid persistent criticism over the quality of Atos’s assessments.
Kate Green, shadow minister for disabled people, said: ‘People have been badly let down by Atos. But changing the contract isn’t enough. It’s time for the government to fundamentally reform work capability assessments so disabled people who can work are given support they need to find a job.’
The DWP yesterday refused to comment.
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