Is the Government’s Fit for Work Service Fit for Work?

In Industry News, Protection by PCH Staff

In July this year, the UK government’s Fit for Work (FfW) service completed its nationwide rollout after going live across England (it had previously been rolled out in Scotland and Wales). The service allows GPs and employers to refer employees who have been off work for four weeks or more for an occupational health assessment. It’s a service that’s designed to provide ready access to work-related health advice and help manage sickness absence.

However, despite being rolled out several months ago, it would seem that many employers and even GPs are unaware of the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) new service. In fact, according to recent research by YouGov and medical insurance provider Cigna, a whopping 76% of employers and 60% of GPs are not aware of the service.

Furthermore, even fewer employers (14%) know that the scheme allows up to £500 in tax relief for medical treatment per employee per year.

Perhaps most concerning of all is that of those GPs who are aware of the scheme, approximately two-thirds say they don’t plan to use the service as they believe workplace absence falls under an employer’s responsibilities.

But the government’s own guidance for employers states that “employees will normally be referred by their GP”; a fact that creates a degree of confusion to say the least.

More Communication Needed

Phil Austin, managing director at Cigna UK, said: “The DWP initiatives to help employers with the rising costs of sickness absence are definitely a positive step.

“However, the Cigna research points to a need for more widespread communication on the Fit for Work scheme. At the same time, employers and GPs need better understanding of each other’s roles in managing sickness absence.”

The research from YouGov and Cigna also found that awareness of the scheme was lowest among small businesses. This is a worrying revelation as these are the very types of business that have been cited as needing the most support when it comes to sickness absence management and the ones the scheme will benefit the greatest.

According to the most recently published government figures, 865,000 people each year are absent from work for four weeks or more in England and Wales.

Talking about the scheme, Welfare Reform Minister Lord Freud said: “Fit for Work will ensure that people get the right help when they need it to get back to work so they can continue to support themselves and their families.”

Premier Choice has long provided a claims referral proposition to all its Group Income Protection clients. It has now become more recognised that managing the mental health of employees is key to a successful and speedy return to work. We have seen the Government roll out their Fit for Work programme across the UK, which is a welcome addition to the services available, but we also ask, does it go far enough? Initial signs are good, but unless the employee consents to the programme it may well grind to a halt and this is where having a robust tailor made arrangement can really make a difference in looking after your key assets: your employees.

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