Frost/Black response – Thumbs up to Independent Assessment Service but no news on tax breaks

The Government will fund a new Independent Assessment Service that will deliver state-funded assessments by occupational health professionals after four weeks on sick leave. But Fitness For Work, its response to the Frost/Black review of sickness absence stops short of a decision on tax breaks for return to work solutions.

The Government’s response, published last week, also includes a pledge to revise fit note guidance to reflect fitness for any work and not just one specific role.

The Government says it will not make a decision on whether expenditure by employers targeted at keeping sick employees in work or speeding their return to work such as medical treatments or vocational rehabilitation should attract tax relief until the Budget.

Existing tax relief on employee assistance programmes that relate to sickness absence management will be retained.

The Government has confirmed it will accept the recommendation to abolish the Percentage Threshold Scheme (PTS) which compensates mainly smaller employers for very high rates of sickness absence in their organisations, but reduces incentives to manage absence.

It will also accept the recommendation that record-keeping obligations under SSP be abolished, thereby helping to reduce employer administrative burdens.

The Government says it will move to ensure all public sector employers publish an annual average working days lost metric and review their occupational sick pay regime.

But it rejected the proposal for a new job-brokering service to help long-term sick employees find new work before they fall on the benefits system. The new health and work assessment and advisory service will instead signpost employees in this position to Universal Jobmatch, a free internet job-matching service launched in November 2012.

John Letizia, head of public affairs and CSR at Unum says: “The Government’s response is encouraging albeit timid. By accepting the recommendations to revise fit note guidance and establish an Independent Assessment Service, the government is moving in a positive direction for employers. On the other hand, ministers have delayed a decision on the key question of tax relief for intervention and rehabilitation until the budget. This will be the acid test of their commitment to helping businesses.”

Katharine Moxham says: “We welcome the Government’s response to the Sickness Absence Review, especially the proposals for a new health and work assessment and advisory service – the scope of which goes well beyond the recommendations made by the Sickness Absence Review, to ensure appropriate interventions, case management and follow-up. We are also particularly pleased to note that tax relief for Employee Assistance Programmes will be retained.”

Chris Jessop, managing director of Axa PPP Healthcare’s specialist health services division says: “The proposed health and work assessment and advisory service, which is to be externally provided, should be especially helpful to smaller sized employers who often struggle to access to the kind of expert occupational health services typically utilised by larger employers. As a provider of occupational health services, we look forward to learning more of the government’s plans to invite providers to tender to provide their services to the new health and work assessment and advisory service.

“The government’s proposal that the new health and work assessment and advisory service should take the lead on ensuring that the individuals who use it received appropriate interventions, case management and follow-up help after their assessments go much further than those recommend by Frost and Black and further clarification is needed as to how this new remit will work in practice and how it will be funded.

“As a provider of healthcare funding services, we also look forward to the Budget on 20 March 2013 when the government will present the outcome of deliberations on whether to allow tax relief for employer funded treatment of ill or injured employees to expedite their treatment, recovery and return to work.”