If you're disabled there's a chance your NHS GP may charge you up to £130 to appeal a decision about your fitness for work. New evidence from the Citizens Advice Bureau claims some GPs will only help with an appeal when a fee is paid.

Are disabled people paying the price of the government's much-criticised Work Capability Assessment (WCA) program?


Fit to pay?

"Charging sick and disabled people more than £100 for medical evidence beggars belief," says Gillian Guy, chief executive of Citizens Advice, told the Independent. "This process is clearly failing." Some GPs are bailing out of the claims-support process altogether.

The Work Capability Assessment program is controlled by private French operator Atos Healthcare on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP). Atos has carried out around 1.8m assessments since 2009, though 600,000 of those assessments have had appeals lodged against them subsequently.

200,000 appeals successful

Approximately 30% of those appeals, or 200,000 cases, have succeeded. The National Audit Office says the cost to the taxpayer of the appeals is now around £66m annually - meaning the taxpayer is paying twice: first for the Atos assessment, then again if the appeal is upheld.

A DWP investigation into the quality of Atos' written reports has seen the company stripped of its monopoly to carry out WCA assessments.

According to new research from Parkinson's UK, the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, MS Society and the National Rheumatoid Arthritis Society, more than four in 10 unemployed with severe life-long illnesses have been told by Atos that they will get better – and have to find jobs.

Litigation potential

"A system," says Caroline Hacker, head of policy and service improvement at Parkinson's UK, "which tells people who have had to give up work because of a debilitating progressive condition that they'll recover...shows many assessors, and those who rubber-stamp the decisions in Government, don't apply the most basic understanding of the medical conditions they are dealing with."

Iain Duncan Smith has shown little interest in re-evaluating the WCA - described as a highly blunt instrument by some - so far. However, the DWP could be in trouble if sufficient numbers of disabled people decided to sue the DWP for damages.

Atos Healthcare has received £754m of public money for its tests since 2005, according to the National Audit Office.