THE former head of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has cast doubt over the government’s ability to handle the welfare system.

Ex-Work and Pensions Secretary Stephen Crabb said the DWP was not “very good at getting its forecasts right” after a report revealed private contractors would be paid about £200 million extra for helping Westminster cut the benefits bill.

Atos and Capita both won contracts to carry out assessments for personal independence payments (PIP). The checks are supposed to determine whether or not claimants with disabilities have a right to support.

New figures show the firms are set to be paid more than £700m for their five-year deals, compared to an original estimate of £512m.

The DWP said the assessment process for PIP was key to supporting claimants, and that it has to balance effective support for the most vulnerable with getting the best value for the taxpayer.

Speaking on the Today programme yesterday, Crabb emphasised that the companies were not making additional profit, but that the extra sums were due to the need to carry out more assessments than were originally planned for.

When asked if the DWP was at fault for failing to negotiate terms on the true scale of the task, Crabb said: “I think that would be a fair criticism that could be levelled at the DWP.

“With some of the benefit reforms that have happened over the last five, ten years – it goes back to the Labour days – it hasn’t been very good at getting its forecasts right.”

Analysis released by the Press Association shows Atos and Capita have already been paid £578m in relation to PIP since it launched in 2013. This includes £257m in 2016, the highest year so far, according to the department’s monthly spending data.

The original contracts totalled £512m for a five-year period ending in December. With DWP having paid Atos and Capita an average of £19m a month over the past two years, the companies are set to earn in excess of £700m by the time the contracts expire.

Labour work and pensions spokeswoman Debbie Abrahams said: “This Tory Government is rewarding failure. These costs are spiralling out of control.

Meanwhile, the SNP’s Corri Wilson said: “’ It is hard to believe that a government so intent on austerity has allowed this to get so out of control, and at the same time create so much misery for so many people.’’ The DWP said: “We routinely review our work to make sure that we focus our resources on the most viable options and deliver the most effective support for the most vulnerable in society, while also ensuring the best value for the taxpayer.”