Allegations that Atos, which runs the work capability assessment (WCA) for employment and support allowance (ESA), uses unfair methods in its assessments are “alarming”, according to Mark Lever, chief executive of the National Autistic Society (NAS).
Greg Wood, a doctor who resigned from Atos last month after working as an assessor for two-and-a-half years, told the BBC the WCA system was "skewed against the claimant".
He added that he believes Atos assessors are not free to make truly independent recommendations.
In the WCA, test which Atos carries out on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, potential claimants have to score a certain number of points to qualify for the full ESA benefit.
However, Wood told the BBC: “I was instructed to change my reports, to reduce the number of points that might be awarded to the claimants. I felt that was wrong professionally and ethically.”
Atos has denied Wood’s allegations, saying in a statement that it never asks healthcare professionals to make changes to a report unless clinical quality issues have been identified with it. It also denied that it has targets for getting people off benefits.
Mark Lever, chief executive of the NAS, said: “Dr Wood’s allegations are alarming and every effort must be made by those who devise and implement the test to ensure that assessors can make realistic and honest judgements of applicants’ ability to work.
“We’ve had serious concerns about the fairness of the ESA process for assessing people with autism for some time, and have raised these issues with Atos and the Department for Work and Pensions.
“Autism is a hidden disability and the way it impacts upon a person may not be immediately obvious to someone who does not understand the condition. Due to its complexities, it’s essential that those conducting assessments receive specific training in the disability so they can make fair and accurate judgements.
“We would also question whether frequent benefit reviews is the best use of public money for people with life-long conditions like autism that aren't going to change.
“Repeat assessments can cause significant anxiety for people with autism and can consequently mean they develop additional mental health problems. At a time when the Government is trying to cut the deficit, its efforts should be directed at making sure that welfare decisions get it right the first time, saving money to the public purse in the long-run.”