Ministers are preparing to ditch the firm carrying out “fitness for work” tests on disabled benefit claimants, according to leaked government documents.
French-run Atos has come under heavy fire for its handling of work capability assessments, which are used to gauge eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Incapacity Benefit.
Ministers last year announced they were commissioning other private firms to add “further capacity” to the assessment system. According to a Department for Work and Pensions financial review seen by the Guardian the move will enable “these providers to take over the whole contract” from Atos when its £500m deal ends in 2015.
The document says civil servants are “involved in ongoing discussions with Atos Healthcare regarding the quality of the service delivered”.
Atos has come under fire over the so-called work capability assessments amid claims that people are being wrongly recommended for work, or put through stressful medical interviews.
Charities have branded the test “farcical” and “hugely flawed” while Labour last year called for the firm to be stripped of its contract after 42 per cent of appeals were upheld.
Private providers reported to be in the running include G4S, Serco, A4E and Capita Group.
An Atos spokeswoman said: “The department has made it clear that it is considering bringing additional providers on board.”