Ulster Unionist MLA Mike Nesbitt has said he is “not happy” about a Troubles pension scheme being administered by Capita.
He made the comments as a whistle blower who worked for the company said it had “let down people in Northern Ireland” in the manner it handled PIP assessments. Capita said it “did not recognise” his claims and assessments were built on a “foundation of comprehensive training”.
Last week the Northern Ireland Public Services Ombudsman (NIPSO) published a scathing report on Capita’s handling of the Personal Independence Payment (PIP) scheme.
It found that many benefit claims had been “unfairly rejected” amid “systemic maladministration”.
Last week, Communities Minister Deirdre Hargey confirmed the contract with Capita for PIP had been extended for a further two years until 2023.
The company has also been awarded the contract by the Department of Justice to carry out medical assessments of Troubles victims under the new pension scheme.
The Department of Justice said Capita had been appointed following a public procurement process and it was “wrong” to compare how it runs the PIP assessments to how the pension scheme will be administered.
Speaking on the BBC’s Nolan Show, Mr Nesbitt – who is a former Victims Commissioner - expressed his concern with the decision to appoint Capita.
“I’m not happy about it because I have worked with people who have wished to appeal their PIP assessment,” he said.
“Like any MLA I have people who will come to the constituency office, I find this one of the most challenging parts of the job.
“You know as they walk through the door just to look at them that this is a vulnerable person then they sit down and tell you that they got zero points on their PIP assessment.
“I plead to the Executive and particularly to the Minister for Justice. She knows we are talking about vulnerable people. Vulnerable people who through no fault of their own mostly were made victims of our conflict.”
A Department of Justice spokesperson said: “Capita was appointed by the Department of Justice on behalf of the Victims’ Payments Board through a public procurement process to design and deliver a service for determining the level of permanent disablement of applicants as a result of a Troubles-related incident.
“Medical assessments will be carried by a dedicated team within Capita and in line with detailed guidance produced by the Victims’ Payments Board.
“It is wrong and inappropriate to read across the same issues to the arrangements being put in place for the Troubles scheme.
“The assessment process for this scheme is bespoke and unique to that scheme. There has been engagement with the main groups representing victims and survivors. Specific needs of victims and survivors will be at the heart of decision making.
“It is important there is no further delay to implementing the scheme to avoid any further trauma to victims.”
A whistle blower who worked for Capita told the BBC Nolan Show said the company has “let down” the people of Northern Ireland.
The registered nurse – named as Michael - worked for the company assessing PIP claims for two months this year.
“Quite often you’d speak to a very distressed claimant, or customer as we were told to call them,” he told the show.
“We were told not to nurse them, not to try and guide them through the process. We were told to stick to the script.
“If they cannot answer in the way that Capita want them to answer and they cannot back it up with either documentary evidence...then they are going to get nil award.
“If they can have a conversation with you and lets say they chuckle, we were told to write down that they were able to engage fully with the assessor has no hesitancy in talking.
“Therefore, if they said they felt a bit anxious going out and communicating with people, that was a justification in terms of Capita to not award them any points as they were able to talk on the phone.
“I have no confidence that the PIP process in Capita is humane to be honest. I just don’t think it is designed to really take into account the way people really are.
“I think it lets down people in Northern Ireland. I would not want to be a PIP claimant at all. Take it away from Capita. Bring it in house if needs be.”
“Considering their history, considering the amount of successful appeals I could not hand on heart say the people of Northern Ireland are safe being assessed for PIP by Capita.”
In a statement to the BBC, Capita said it “did not recognise the allegations” made by the whistle blower.
“We ask open and targeted questions built on a foundation of comprehensive training,” the company added.
“We deliver their assessments professionally with empathy and by respecting the dignity of the individual.
“There are no incentives associated to award decisions. Every claim is considered on an individual basis. Any incentive is wholly based on the assessor producing consistently high-quality reports on a timely basis and is in no way related to decisions on entitlement to PIP.”