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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) uses third-party contractors to provide health and disability assessments to inform decisions about benefits. The Centre for Health and Disability Assessments (CDHA), a subsidiary of Maximus, holds the contract under which assessments are carried out for various benefits, including Work Capability Assessments (WCAs) for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Universal Credit.

Assessments for Personal Independence Payment (PIP) are delivered under separate contracts. Atos (operating as Independent Assessment Services) undertakes assessments in Scotland and in northern England, and in southern England. Capita undertakes assessments in Wales and central England, and in Northern Ireland.

Disability campaigners have long voiced concerns about benefit assessment processes. In February 2018, a Work and Pensions Committee report found that failings in the end-to-end processes for both PIP and ESA had contributed to a lack of trust in both benefits and undermined confidence among claimants. It made a series of recommendations covering, amongst other things, recording of assessments, the supply and use of evidence, the clarity of communications, guidance in relation to home assessments, and the role of companions.

In March 2019 the DWP launched a ‘Health Transformation Programme’ to develop a new, integrated ‘Health Assessment Service’, for both PIP and WCAs. The aim is to make the assessment process “simpler, more user-friendly, easier to navigate and more joined-up for claimants, whilst delivering better value for money for taxpayers”. The Department began testing different approaches in a ‘Health Transformation Area’ (HTA) in north London in April 2021. The DWP has also begun work to procure assessment services from private sector providers for the period 2023-2028.

Further information on the DWP’s proposals for reforming assessment processes and decision making, and for supporting claimants, can be found in the July 2021 Health and Disability Green Paper.

The Scotland Act 2016 devolved responsibility to the Scottish Government and Parliament for, among other things, extra-costs disability benefits including DLA and PIP. The Scottish Government has said that application processes for the devolved disability benefits will not involve assessments such as the functional examinations carried out for the DWP, although there will be consultations “where it is the only practicable way to gather accurate information”. Additionally, there will be “light touch” reviews of ongoing awards. Decision-making will be undertaken by health professionals employed directly by its benefits delivery agency Social Security Scotland, and not by private sector providers.

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