‘Campaigners attack drive to block benefits appeals as decisions get overturned ‘, Sunday Mail (Scotland), 1 January 2012

January 3, 2012

From ‘The Sunday Mail' in Scotland, 1 January 2012 (story by Mark Aitken).

A FIRM employed by the Government to weed out benefit cheats are losing more than two thirds of the appeals against their decisions.

Controversial French company Atos are paid £100million a year to get people off disability and sickness benefit.

But Citizens Advice Scotland (CAS) have revealed that 69 per cent of people they represented at tribunals have won their appeals.

Heart attack and lung disease victims are among those Atos have assessed as being well enough to look for jobs.

And figures from parliament records show appeals will cost the taxpayer £60million this financial year alone.

Incredibly, Atos will not be penalised for their abysmal performance.

CAS head of policy Susan McPhee said: “If the Government want to cut down on fraud and help people into work, we support that.

“But with this system, they aretargeting many people who aregenuinely sick and unable to work. They are removing their income and plunging them into poverty.

“Our advisers are overwhelmed by people who have been found ‘fit for work’ by the Employment Support Allowance (ESA) assessment when they are not.

“Almost 70 per cent of these people who are helped by CAS have their assessment overturned at appeal – which shows how poor the system is and how many people are wrongly caught out by it.”

The figure is based on a sample of 269 ESA tribunals in 2010-11 – with 185successful.

Figures obtained by Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP Tom Greatrex show there were more than 166,000 appeals against ESA decisions in 2010-11, costing the taxpayer £40million.

And from April to August this year, there were almost 80,000 appeals,costing £19.1million.

This means the bill for 2011-12 could be £60million.

Greatrex said: “I know fromthe Citizens Advice centres in my constituency the amount of time and resources taken up by helping some of the most vulnerable people navigate their way through this tortuous system.

“These aren’t people trying to fiddle the system – they are constituents who suffer from serious illnesses such as Parkinson’s and cancer.

“The rapid rise in cases Citizens Advice dealt with in the last year clearly shows there is a problem.

“The way to save money, reduce the backlog of appeals and lessen the huge burden on Citizens Advice is not to hire more judges or move to a six-day week at the Tribunal Service, as the Government are doing.

“They must reform the Work Capability Assessment so it isfair and gets decisions right first time round.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokeswoman said: “The reassessment of incapacity benefit claimants is pressing ahead on time and as expected.”

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