DPOs silent over secret links with Atos


Disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) that helped Atos Healthcare win a new government contract to assess claimants of disability benefits have asked the much-criticised company not to reveal their identities.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced last week that two of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment (PIP) – the planned replacement for working-age disability living allowance – had gone to Atos Healthcare, with the third to outsourcing giant Capita.

Disabled activists have been highly critical of the decision to award the two contracts to Atos, which already carries out “fitness for work” assessments on behalf of the DWP.

Disabled People Against Cuts (DPAC) said last week that Atos was the company “most responsible for driving through the government’s brutal cuts agenda” and had “devastated the lives of hundreds of thousands of disabled people”.

DWP said the three successful PIP bids “demonstrated strong evidence of working with a range of partner organisations such as health groups and the voluntary sector, and of close working with disabled people’s representative groups”.

But this week Atos refused to name the DPOs and other disability organisations that had helped it win the lucrative contracts, or even to say how many such organisations it had worked with.

An Atos spokeswoman also refused to say why these organisations had refused permission to have their names released.

She said: “We are talking to and working with DPOs and disability rights groups to make sure that when we start delivering on the PIP contracts it is as good as possible.

“We do speak to a lot of disability organisations but they do not want us to publicly name who we are in touch with.”

She said Atos had worked with DPOs in the run-up to being awarded the contact, and that that would continue “in the run-up to implementation and beyond”.

The assessments themselves will be carried out by NHS trusts and private healthcare providers, rather than Atos assessors, although those carrying out the assessments will be trained by Atos.

This is likely to cause controversy in the wake of last week’s Channel 4 Dispatches investigation, which used undercover filming to record an Atos trainer in action.

In the wake of the programme, the Labour MP Dame Anne Begg said she was “shocked” by the trainer’s apparent “harsh interpretation” of the rules, and called on DWP to investigate the training being given by Atos to its new assessors to find out “whether it is so harsh and unforgiving and unbending as it appeared in Dispatches”.

But the Atos spokeswoman said: “It is a different contract so it is a different model and a different benefit. There will be ongoing education and training for those who conduct the assessments on the ground.

“That will take the form of listening to feedback that we get, working with the government and improving the service.”

9 August 2012