Migration to ESA

ESA 59

Written evidence submitted by Advanced Personnel Management

About Advanced Personnel Management (APM) UK

APM is a private company with representation in all Australian states and territories. APM’s UK operations commenced in October 2010. Our core business is to provide assessment, vocational rehabilitation and employment services assistance for clients with an injury, disability or health condition in order to optimise their social and economic participation in the community.

APM is the largest private sector provider of Australian Government funded Job Capacity Assessments (JCAs) and Disability Management Services (DMS). APM has more than 17 years experience working within the Workers’ Compensation, Life/Income Protection and Compulsory Third Party Motor Vehicle Insurance markets, and providing consultancy services for employers.

In 2002, with the introduction of the Australian "Better Assessment Model", APM was awarded a National contract to provide Australian Government funded Work Capacity Assessments (WCAs.) In the period 2002-2006, APM completed more than 150,000 WCAs and also participated in the Early Intervention & Engagement Pilot (EI&E) in 2005 and the Direct Registration WCA pilot in 2006.

In 2006, APM was awarded the largest non-government provider market share of the Job Capacity Assessment contract (JCA) in all Employment Service Areas throughout Australia. APM has performed more than 450,000 Australian Government funded interview based holistic assessments (in the form of WCAs and JCAs).

APM assists more than 80,000 Australians each year in 478 locations across the country. Our service reach extends from all capital cities to some of the most remote locations in Australia. Our work with the Australian Government and private sectors has provided us with experience working with people with a diverse range of disabilities, health conditions and injury types; together with an understanding of the socioeconomic, personal, psychological and geographic challenges faced by many people in their day to day lives.

APM’s work with employers provides our consultants with a realistic understanding of the requirements of work, employer expectations and the interface between work and an individual’s everyday functioning.

APM UK have been afforded the opportunity to deliver ‘front end assessment’ to both Employment Support Allowance (ESA) and Incapacity Benefit Customers (IB) within the context of the Work Programme. We will be working alongside A4e in 5 contract package areas. These are East London, Thames Valley and Hampshire & Isle of Wight, East Midlands, Merseyside, Lancashire and Cumbria and South Yorkshire. We will be co-located within A4e office sand work with front line advisors to ensure a warm handover of customers from the assessment stage, allowing us to provide further support to A4e advisors should this be required.

Our model will see potential job seekers assessed by a qualified Allied Health Professional who will ascertain the individual barriers to employment and make recommendations on the interventions required to progress that individual efficiently to a sustainable employment outcome. Following the assessment, a report will be produced which details:

· The recommended level of support that the customer will require to transition to employment

· The type of skills required by the Employment Service Provider (end to end job broker who will support the customer for the remainder of their journey into employment and beyond) to best meet the individual need of the customer

· The interventions that are required to assist the customer into sustainable employment, for example the critical issues that must be incorporated into an Action Plan

· The number of hours that the customer is able to participate in either employment or work related activity at the time of the assessment

· The approximate date when the customer will be ready for full time employment subject to the recommendations that have been given

The use of allied health professionals, with both a knowledge of the workplace and the customers disability, provides an informed guidance regarding how injury, illness and disability can be successfully accommodated by employers. Doctors possess the disability and medical condition knowledge whilst Allied Health Consultants with a Vocational Rehabilitation background also understand the work place requirements. Vocationally trained allied health professionals are able to successfully integrate these two aspects and provide informed guidance on vocational direction, thereby facilitating sustainable employment.


Our Response

"The Department’s communications to customers going through the assessment and whether the information, guidance and advice provided by the Department and Jobcentre Plus is effective in supporting customers through the process."

· APM believes that the manner of DWP’s initial communication with its customers can have a lasting effect on the likeliness of an individual to move off benefits and into work. To this end, communication must be clear, concise and appropriate to the personal circumstances of the people that it is seeking to serve.

· APM strongly believes that assessors must be skilled in dealing with the multiple and complex barriers faced by people with disabilities and the multitude of medical, psychological and social elements that can form barriers to labour market entry.

"The Work Capability Assessment including: the assessment criteria; the service provided by Atos staff; the suitability of assessment centres; and customers’ overall experience of the process."

APM considers that:

· A greater amount of time needs to be allocated to the process to allow for maximum engagement of clients at this critical early stage. The additional time would be used to link clients to the appropriate employment service providers and source additional information from treating doctors and other medical professionals as required.

· The assessor could link the client to appropriate medical or prevocational services to address barriers that would have previously seen a customer exempted from participating to their capacity (e.g. poorly managed medical and psychological conditions). This would improve the transition process and reduce systematic delays.

· Allied health professional staff, with a vocational rehabilitation background, would bring both the experience of working within a client focused model of service delivery. This approach would ensure a joined up method of assessment and ultimately deliver better outcomes for the DWP and its customers.

"The decision-making process and how it could be improved to ensure that customers are confident that the outcome of their assessment is a fair and transparent reflection of their capacity for work."

· In APM’s experience, the assessment model needs to ensure flexibility by not placing limitations on the allied health professional’s ability to exercise professional judgment.

· APM recommends that allied health professionals are provided scope in regards to their professional opinion by reducing the rigidity of prescribed phrasing, allowing allied health professionals (assessors) to exercise professional judgement and make recommendations.

· APM fully supports the need for assessors to have appropriate professional qualifications, skills and training to ensure consistent, valid and reliable assessment outcomes. APM believes this is of critical importance given the responsibility of the assessment in the determination of benefit eligibility and income and their ability to be challenged within the appeals process.

· APM recommends that referral pathways are separated from income determination decisions. This will help to ensure that customers are matched to the employment service provider that best meets their needs and to be able to commence with the most appropriate service provider with minimal delay.

· APM recommends a highly functioning system to allow for appropriate access to the relevant information (subject to privacy and social security legislation) for staff across agencies. Furthermore, this system needs to allow access to historical client information to ensure appropriate follow up and referral.

"The appeals process, including the time taken for the appeals process to be completed; and whether customers who decide to appeal the outcome of their assessment have all the necessary guidance, information and advice to support them through the process."

· APM believes in an holistic approach to the complex issues arising from long term benefit dependency. We consider that a "one size fits all" philosophy is wholly inappropriate in this context. Furthermore, professionally accredited assessors should be able to complete an accurate assessment of an individuals benefit eligibility against the department’s criteria which is both robust and defensible. Additionally, APM believes the focus of the assessment should also be to engage with the client, and to refer those appropriate clients to an employment service provider at the time of assessment. This approach would diminish the focus on whether the client "passes or fails the assessment" and increase the focus on the assistance that will be provided for the client to participate in the workforce.

A properly functioning system of this type model would lessen the number of appeals against determinations perceived to be negative and diminish confusion amongst all stakeholders.

· The absence of a joined up system that draws assessors, medical professionals and employment experts onto a single platform will inevitably cause delays and appeals. This could be due to systematic failings as much as genuine factors affecting appellants.

In Conclusion

APM understands that a robust, evidence based defensible assessment of a job seeker’s work capacity underpins the success of any government welfare to work initiative.

Our nine year partnership with the Australian Government has provided us with extensive experience in assessing the impact of injury, illness, disability and health on a client’s capacity for work in hour bandwidths and determining medical impairment within the legislative framework of Australian Social Security legislation.

As active participants in the Work Programme we are committed to bringing the benefits of our expertise to the United Kingdom market. We believe that Australia’s recent history of policy development will be of much relevance to this inquiry.

April 2011