The UK’s most influential disabled people’s organisation (DPO) has become embroiled in a row over its involvement in helping the outsourcing giant Capita win a multi-million pound benefits assessment contract.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) announced in August that Capita had secured one of three regional contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment (PIP).
But a tender document uncovered by disabled researchers this week appears to show that Disability Rights UK (DR UK) played a significant part in helping Capita secure the contract to assess disabled people in Wales and central England.
DR UK has denied doing anything other than advising Capita on how to ensure disabled people secured good advice, and pushing for it to fund a free, impartial guide to PIP.
DR UK stressed that it had lobbied and campaigned against the government’s 20 per cent cuts to spending that will be introduced through the reforms, which will see PIP gradually replacing disability living allowance for working-age people from next April.
But although DR UK has repeatedly insisted this week that its only involvement with Capita was to ensure the provision of “independent rights-based advice and information to disabled people”, Capita’s tender document states otherwise.
A Capita spokeswoman told Disability News Service that “all quotes included from other organisations in the tender document were approved by the relevant parties prior to submission”.
She added: “Capita always abides with procurement rules and acts with the highest levels of integrity. All the information in the document was supplied in good faith, based on communication at the time with various disabled people and their representative groups.”
DR UK is now “seeking information” from Capita about the discrepancy between what it claims its role was and what Capita states in its tender document.
The controversy comes only weeks after DR UK attracted heated criticism from within the disability movement for its decision to lead a new alliance of DPOs, charities, and private and public sector organisations that will produce new disability policies for the government.
The tender and supplier information form, submitted to the DWP in May, states that Capita had worked “particularly closely” with DR UK, one of four organisations that it says helped with “testing our solution” and which were “a committed part of our supply chain”.
There was even an endorsement for the company from Mark Shrimpton, DR UK’s director of services and information, who said: “Disability Rights UK is delighted to endorse Capita’s approach to learning, development and continuous improvement.”
The document claims that DR UK helped Capita develop an accessibility “charter” for its PIP assessment centres, and would help Capita “recruit disabled people into senior positions”.
It also says: “We are paying for DRUK to employ someone whose role it is to identify and analyse feedback from their networks of disabled people to help us improve.”
And it adds: “DRUK has over 1,000 member organisations which should allow for broad capture of ongoing claimant experiences.”
But a DR UK spokesman insisted that all DR UK did was advise Capita “on how to ensure people got good advice on their rights” and that it only received payment for this.
He added: “Disability Rights UK believes it is appropriate to engage with contractors delivering services, whatever they might be, regardless of whether we might disagree with government policy, to ensure that disabled people get the best possible outcome.
“If we were not trying to ensure free, expert, independent information was provided to disabled people it is unlikely that appropriate support will be available.”
18 October 2012