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Tuesday, 25 October 2011

The Atos Complaints Procedure and the Invisible Independent Tier - what is the point?

As anyone who has used it will know, the internal Atos WCA complaints process is pretty poor.  The second level doesn’t stick to the laid down process and the third and final level, the so-called Independent Tier (IT), is a complete misnomer being shrouded in so much secrecy it is impossible to find out anything about it – so much for the principles of transparency & public scrutiny that the Government claims to be so keen on!!! You will get more hits on Google by searching on Opus Dei!!

Worse still, being appointed, controlled and paid by Atos itself it can hardly be described as independent as DWP continues to insist, unless there is a meaning of the word I have not yet come across.  We are still however expected to trust its integrity and believe that whatever changes it recommends within Atos are enthusiastically embraced, faithfully implemented and sustained.  Who knows?

Many people have tried to break through this absurd, undemocratic barrier to no avail.  The practical problem is that DWP has foolishly allowed the anonymity of the IT to be included in its contract with Atos, so releasing its identity would place them in breach of contract, which probably has financial consequences.  This may be a problem in the short run, but the terms of any contract can be renegotiated, so hopefully DWP has recognised its naivety and already has this in hand (???).

But my purpose in writing this is simply to ask from a claimant’s point of view “What is the point of using the Atos complaints procedure at all?”

Most commonly DWP has received the WCA results (the ESA85) from Atos and acted upon it before a claimant has received a copy and has decided whether or not they want to complain to Atos.  [Note that claimants have to request a copy of their ESA85 if they want one and can only request it  from DWP, not Atos as contractually DWP owns it.  They are not issued automatically and DWP can of course control the sequence of who sees what & when].  The claimant’s first notification is therefore normally a letter from DWP say whether or not ESA will continue to be paid – by which time of course the damage may well have been done.

There is (at least for the time being) an appeals procedure through firstly DWP itself and then on to the Tribunals Service, but it can be many months before the appeal is heard by the TS.  This process takes its course whether or not you have raised a complaint with Atos and the TS will take its decision regardless of an ongoing or finalised complaint with Atos – it has no bearing whatsoever on the appeal process or its outcome. 

In fact a DWP decision maker will happily use an ESA85 they know has been contested, meaning it is Atos that receives benefit of the doubt, not the claimant.  So much for the “support” Chris Grayling has promised.

So as far as I can see, there is absolutely nothing to be gained from complaining to Atos, other than perhaps to let off some steam!  If Atos does accept your complaint is valid, they will not automatically admit an error to DWP and DWP will be continuing with its procedures anyway.  DWP claims to maintain an interest in complaints made to Atos, but only from a distance, NOT sadly on a case by case basis, which is where the Atos errors have the greatest impact.

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