‘Frustration’ at two-month wait for EHRC’s new disability commissioner

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Members of the committee set up to lead on the equality watchdog’s work on disabled people’s rights are said to be frustrated at the government’s continuing failure to appoint a new disability commissioner.

The previous commissioner, Lord [Chris] Holmes (pictured), left his post as planned on 14 January, and interviews for his replacement are believed to have been carried out in December, while an appointment had been expected in mid-January.

Two months on, no appointment has been made, even though the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is engaged in several pieces of high-profile, disability-related work, including an inquiry into the impact of welfare reforms on the human rights of disabled people and other minority groups, and an inquiry into disabled people’s housing.

As well as being an EHRC board member, the successful candidate will chair the commission’s disability committee, although that committee is about to be disbanded and replaced by an advisory group that will not have the same legal powers to make decisions on issues affecting disabled people.

One member of the committee, who asked to remain anonymous, said: “I think all of us would say that it is frustrating not to have clarity on this to inform the future of disability at the commission.”

The disability committee was given significant powers by the Equality Act 2006 to take important disability-related decisions within EHRC, for example allowing it to overrule commission officers on critical and strategically-important legal cases.

But the committee will now have just one more meeting, on Monday, before it loses this statutory status at the end of this month.

The committee is currently being chaired in an acting capacity by its vice-chair, Dr Rachel Perkins.

EHRC said yesterday (Wednesday) that it had not yet been told by the government when it would appoint a new disability commissioner, and could not comment on the appointment process.

But an EHRC spokesman said: “We hope that the secretary of state will soon appoint the new disability commissioner and that they can take up their position as soon as possible.

“Our important work on disability rights continues, and we will soon be publishing the biggest ever report into the lives of disabled people in Britain.”

A spokesman for the Department for Education, EHRC’s sponsor department, declined to explain why no appointment had yet been made, although he admitted that it had taken “slightly longer than expected”.

He said: “We will be making an announcement in due course.”

He said the department was aware of its statutory duty to appoint a disability commissioner who is or has been disabled.

The government has previously refused to say how many people were interviewed for the role, although it has confirmed that the successful candidate – when they are finally appointed – will be someone who is or has been a disabled person.

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