Friday, 23 September 2011

NCC Brings in ATOS Style 'Independent' Assessment for Disability Bus Passes (And Sneaks In Some Cuts to Eligibility)

People with certain disabilities are entitled to a Mobility Citycard which gives you free travel on buses and trams. This is part of the national scheme plus local discretion to include travel at peak times. If you get the higher rate of the Mobility Component of Disability Living Allowance you can apply without getting your GP to sign a declaration, if not you have to bother your doctor.

NCC has decided to change this though and has now decided to commission 'independent' assessment of disability by a private company. This is expected to cost the Council £480k over three years.

Such a tactic has echoes of national policy in that examinations for Employment Support Allowance are carried out by ATOS, a private company who has come up against considerable criticism.

The rhetoric involved is not too dissimilar as well. The Portfolio Holder decision (in the name of Jon Collins so don't expect him to have had any input into it or to know anything about it) justifies the cost on the basis that the move is likely to result in drop in eligibility of 15%, meaning a saving of £710k over the time of the contract. In other words, disabled people are swinging the lead and only the free market can save us. Sound familiar?

Another similarity is that there is a reduction in the eligibility rules being snuck in as part of the new arrangements. Disabled users will no longer get free travel in peak times, i.e. before 9.30am or after 11pm so those who have a job and/or a social life can obviously go and whistle. In addition, some disabled people will lose their right to have a companion travel with them. This is justified on the basis that the Mobility Component for DLA includes a payment for this. Except of course it doesn't really.

It's quite likely that it is these reductions in eligibility that will result in the expected savings rather than the use of the 'independent' assessor so why not ditch that and keep some of the eligibility?

Oh and the final comedy moment - Cllr 'Calamity' Jane Urquhart has disclosed that her own GP works for the appointed company, called 'Fit4Work' (can't find any definite info on these, mainly because 'Fit4work' is such an unimaginative name for a company involved in medical assessments that there's loads with that name). As such, to avoid any possibility of a conflict of interest she avoided taking the decision herself and gave it to JoCo, a well known safe pair of hands. Apparently they already do the Blue Badge stuff.

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