Income Protection  

Government ditches fit for work referral service

Government ditches fit for work referral service

Group insurance providers have slammed the way the government's Fit for Work referral service, which closed on 15 December, was implemented in the first place.

On 30 November, David Gauke, secretary of state for work and pensions, told the House of Commons that the Fit for Work scheme, which was set up in December 2014 to help offer health and workplace advice to employees, employers and GPs, was closing its referral and assessment service.

The referral service, offering occupational health assessments for employees who are at risk of long-term sickness absence, failed to get as many referrals by employers and GPs as the Department for Work & Pensions had expected.

There were just 650 referrals a month in England and Wales, compared with the original forecast of 34,000, and 100 a month in Scotland, compared with the estimated 4,200.

In his speech, Mr Gauke said: "I am therefore ending the contracts for the provision of the assessment service in England and Wales and in Scotland."

The Fit for Work online and phone services will still offer general health and work advice.

However Paul Avis, marketing director for Canada Life Group Insurance, said the government failed to properly implement the "great idea" of an occupational health referral service.

He said: "The service originally was seen as a positive government intervention to support employers who have always struggled with returning employees to the workplace.

"However, the implementation of what was a great idea seems to have undermined its initial promise at a number of levels."

In the first place, he said with the UK having a massive skills shortage of trained occupational health physicians and nurses, what became evident was that the kind of triage service expected by the government would not happen.

Mr Avis said: "The ability of the employer and employee not to take the advice, or the GP not to back it, meant that, at all stages, a resolution to the staff member's absence was not compulsory and therefore might not progress."

Moreover, he said the £500 limit it imposed on occupational health rehabilitation treatments was also a worry.

"This was not a £500 payment to get treatment done; the employer had to pay the £500 and then the employee, if the treatment was under that, would not be taxed as a P11D but if the treatment was above that level, the rest of the charge would be taxable.

"A combination of the service, reduced technical support and the £500 limit, and the ability to enable opt outs at any stage has no doubt led to the tiny amount of referrals cited by the Fit for Work service."

Losing the Fit for Work service highlights how complicated and important support services are, he added.