A multinational company will be able to order sick people back to work in England and Wales without a face-to-face examination under a new Government privatisation programme aimed to slash hundreds of millions of pounds off the sick pay bill.
The Department of Work and Pensions announced as Parliament went into recess that it is handing over the assessment of eligibility for sick pay to Health Management Ltd, a subsidiary of American multinational, Maximus, which operates in the United States, Britain, Canada and Saudi Arabia.
Maximus runs call centres, occupational health programmes, child support and job seekers programmes abroad and in the United Kingdom.
The programme is to be rolled out from November to next May under the new Health and Work Service set up by the DWP and aims to save between up to £165 million a year by getting people back to work faster as part of Lord Freud’s welfare reforms.
The Scottish government has declined to contract out the work to the private firm and will keep the assessment programme as part of the public service.
From November, people off sick for four weeks will have to be referred to the private company by their GP to continue claiming sick pay or receiving a salary from their firm. A sick note from a doctor will only cover the first four weeks of an illness.
According to a DWP paper this will affect nearly a million employees a year.
The DWP also claim that by getting sick people back to work earlier will boost the economy by £900 million a year.
Lord Freud said: “Providing support where it’s needed most will help to reduce the length of time employees take off sick which, in turn, will cut sick pay costs, improve economic output and reduce the chances of people falling out of work and having to claim benefits. “
Under the new contract for Maximus, it will assign a caseworker to each sick person and draw up a Return to Work plan which should be shared with the employer and employee.
If the sick person does not co-operate, they will not be eligible for sickness benefit.
The paper reveals that the initial assessment will be made on the phone not in person and will probe non-health issues as well as the illness.
The company will also provide an advice service.
The new service has already raised concerns among employers.
A commentary by Pinsent Mason, a law firm which advises employers, warns: “It remains to be seen how effective the new health service will be, particularly as any reports produced by HML will be based on advice delivered via the phone or internet, as opposed to a face-to-face offering.”