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Thursday, 13 October 2011

FoI Act Request - Identity of Atos Independent Tier, cont (2)

I have included these two references together as they are  closely linked and as you have stepped around some the questions I have asked previously, I have to repeat them.  Also, you have made statements that are not supported and therefore need clarification.  Likewise, you have indicated some of the answers are in the Complaint Manual you sent me previously when they are not.  I have highlighted the matters you have not fully addressed in blue.

You state that the anonymity of the Independent Tier is an explicit term in the contract between DWP & AH and a change would have “commercial implications” and I have previously asked quite what this means.  It is perfectly possible to negotiate a change to a contract without any financial consequences, so are you saying that the contract cost to DWP would definitely rise if this clause was changed and if so by roughly what percentage?

Why would revealing the identity of the IT necessarily involve them in direct communication?  The judge at a trial is known to both sides, but neither would expect to lobby his support in any way other than through the established legal process.

You have not explained the contradiction between the Government’s own statement regarding the importance of public scrutiny (as previously quoted) and its position with the Atos IT.  Is the contract the only barrier to transparency, or does DWP believe in principle that impartiality can only be achieved through secrecy?  If this is the case, you must explain why the Tribunal Service, for example,  can operate under public scrutiny but the IT cannot. 

You continue to insist on its independence despite the fact that:

a.       AH know who they are and I do not.
b.      “AH will determine whether a referral to the Independent Tier is appropriate” (a quote from the Atos complaints manual).
c.       “The (AH) Team Leader will determine the nature of any corrective action appropriate” (ditto).
d.      “The Independent Tier will not provide views or judgements to any person outside AH” (ditto).
e.      “IT results will be published in an approved format”, but nowhere does it say approved by whom or what this format is.
f.        Only the AH convenor can communicate with IT and arrange any contact or obtain additional guidance (paraphrased).
g.       You have no idea what (if any) contractual or commercial arrangements exist between AH and the IT.  Any costs associated with use of the IT are not charged to DWP so must affect Atos profit margins – undoubtedly an incentive to use it as little as possible with the obvious impact through (a) above.
h.      There is no competitive tendering process for selection of the IT – Atos appoint who they like.
i.         You cannot even disclose the nature of the IT’s business and so cannot demonstrate they have any qualifications, experience or credentials to adjudicate in this area.
j.        You cannot conclusively confirm that any of the processes you have described.
k.       There are no detailed documents listing the exact criteria the IT assesses so it is impossible to judge what job they are doing let alone how effectively they do it.  The Complaints manual you mention refers to the IT checking against “agreed processes”, but NOT what they are.  There is a very detailed WCA manual giving guidance to HCPs, but there is no confirmation in anything you have sent me that even this forms part of the IT’s ToR when investigating a complaint.   Where does this information exist?
l.         Following on from j), the only reference to service levels requires AH to acknowledge complaints within 2 working days and fully answer complaints within 4 weeks, but the latter is only a “hope” rather than a firm commitment.  What will the IT judge against?  What about the fact that for me they took well over 4 weeks and even then did not address all of the points I had raised?  What about all of the correspondence with Atos since – what response times must they adhere to with these?
m.    Although you say claimants receive copies of everything Atos provides to the IT, nobody can independently prove this is the case.
n.      Likewise, nobody can prove that IT adjudications are not edited prior to publication.
o.      Informal contact between Atos and the IT is perfectly possible.

Obviously it is not and will never be independent under these arrangements.  I would like your overall response to 15 point above + to the specifics in blue.

The Complaints Manual states that “The Independent Tier is approved by the Department for Work and Pensions”, but your letter says just the concept is approved.  Please clarify.  Do you (DWP) know who/what the IT is and can you prove to me that it even exists? 

Your letter states that HCPs base their opinions and advice on the “balance of probabilities”.  I have not seen this phrase before.  What document empowers them to do this rather than seek conclusive evidence to support their advice?  Precisely what evidence are they supposed to weigh up in balancing the probabilities and how are they instructed to resolve contradictory evidence?  This is not clarified in any of the documents I have so far seen.

Despite the secrecy you are still supporting in your response, you declare a commitment to transparency in your final paragraph which frankly is the most absurd contradiction and example of hypocrisy I have yet come across.  Feel free to explain if you think you can.

As this is not a new request, but simply covers omissions/ambiguity arising in your response to my original request, I do not think it appropriate that I should wait another 4 weeks.

Yours faithfully

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