As the relationship between Atos and the DWP appears to turn increasingly bitter, claimants are being dragged into the row, accused of hundreds of episodes of abuse and assaults against Atos staff.
First the DWP leaked documents suggesting it was planning to ditch Atos as the provider of WCAs.
Then Atos announced that it had actually been trying to negotiate an early exit from the WCA contract, due to end in 2015, for months anyway.
Whoever dumped who first, it seems fairly certain that Atos, its reputation severely wounded, will bow out of the WCA contract as soon as it can. In fact, it has already started two new occupational health companies, OH Assist and Performe Health, possibly in an effort to escape the toxic associations that the name Atos has for many people
There will undoubtedly be damage to the DWP too, given the claim by Atos that the WCA is not working for Atos, the DWP or for claimants.
But it’s worth remembering that Atos has already carried out the bulk of the IB to ESA reassessments and now has a very large contract for disability living allowance to personal independence payment reassessments. We also suspect that Atos is still desperately short of staff to carry out PIP medicals, so all those WCA assessors may not be facing redundancy just yet. In other words, whilst the public wrangling may look bitter, behind the scenes little may have changed in the Atos/DWP partnership.
In making excuses for itself, however, Atos also took the opportunity to attack claimants. The company alleged that that there had been an average of 163 incidents a month last year of people assaulting or abusing its staff either in person or online.
It’s a claim we’ve never heard before and it didn’t seem to put Atos off bidding aggressively for the PIP medicals contract
So, were there hundreds of physical and verbal attacks on Atos staff last year? Or were the vast bulk of these ‘incidents’ generalised online abuse aimed at Atos, which the company is conflating with real threats to individuals?
Because if individual staff really are being threatened and assaulted in those sort of numbers then either we should be hearing about the prosecutions or Atos appears to be failing astonishingly in its duty of care towards the people who work for it.
We asked Atos a series of questions about its claims of assaults and abuse of staff. So far they have chosen to remain utterly silent.