Anger has been voiced after it emerged that a private firm repeatedly criticised for its handling of health assessments carried out for the Personal Independence Payment scheme is to be paid a further £31m.
Earlier this year, Capita had its PIP contract extended for two years.
Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey said it was extended "due to challenges arising from the Covid-19 pandemic".
According to Stormont's Department for Communities (DfC), the estimated cost of Capita's contract extension, from August 2021 to July 2023, is £31.9m.
PIP is a benefit that replaced the Disability Living Allowance (DLA) for people between 16 and state pension age.
Capita was given the PIP contract by DfC back in 2016 and has already been paid more than £100m of taxpayers' money since then.
DfC has received hundreds of complaints from applicants over the assessment process and a recent Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman’s report found that the repeated nature of failures with PIP payments constituted “systemic maladministration”.
More than £10m has been spent on processing PIP appeals over the last three years. Ms Hargey has said on several occasions she is committed to the reversal of social security service privatisation and a return to in-house health assessments.
SDLP communities spokesperson Mark H Durkan said he has been clear for years that "in my view that Capita should not receive one penny more of taxpayer’s money for their administration of the Personal Independence Payments (PIP) scheme".
"It is particularly galling to learn that they will now receive another £31.9m of public money over the next two years," he said.
“We have repeatedly seen how the service offered by Capita not does provide value for money,” he said, adding that the lengthy appeals process “leaves us with an even bigger bill to pay”.
"More significantly this company leaves applicants traumatised due to the degrading and humiliating experiences they are subjected to and this should not have been allowed to continue,” he said.
“This significant amount of money could have been used to help deal with one of the many crises facing our people or gone towards reforming the PIP system or creating a way of evaluating those in receipt of welfare in a fair and humane way.
"Our Executive needs to cut its ties with Capita once and for all and stop rewarding these companies for their failure to adequately do their jobs. Minister Hargey also needs to provide clarity on her pledge to bring the assessment process in-house."
DfC said: “To ensure value for money for the taxpayer, the Department for Communities has robust contract management arrangements in place.”
Earlier this month, Capita apologised for any hurt caused to those going through the PIP process. Since 2016, the firm has carried out around 270,000 assessments in Northern Ireland.
Capita managing director Anthony King told MLAs on Stormont's Communities Committee that the majority of PIP applicants have a "high quality and empathetic experience", but he admitted this is not always the case.
"Often when things go wrong we can correct them very quickly, but in the small number of cases when things go wrong they can have very serious consequences for people and their families," he said.
"Obviously the more serious cases I am fully aware of and they can be deeply, deeply upsetting. I just want to take the opportunity today, in public, to say to anybody that has had a poor experience with Capita and been let down, that we are sorry. We do aspire to very high standards and we don't always meet them we would like to apologise to those we have let down."