Three more charities have suggested that Atos Healthcare used misleading claims about them in a document it used to win two lucrative disability assessment contracts.
Disability News Service (DNS) revealed last week that Labour had called for an “immediate investigation” into the claims about contracts to assess disabled people for eligibility for the new personal independence payment (PIP), the replacement for disability living allowance.
Atos suggested in two tender documents that it would be working closely with organisations “such as” Greater Manchester Coalition of Disabled People (GMCDP), Disability Cornwall (DC) and ecdp (formerly Essex Coalition of Disabled People) if it won the contracts, worth hundreds of millions of pounds.
And it suggested that such organisations would help it to design “disability awareness training” for its staff, and communicate with PIP claimants.
But all three disabled people’s organisations (DPOs) were horrified last week when told by DNS that they had been mentioned in Atos’s tender documents, first unearthed by a supporter of the campaign group Disabled People Against Cuts.
Now the other three disability organisations Atos mentioned in the tender document as possible partners – DIAL Weston-super-Mare, Disability North and the Scottish Association for Mental Health (SAMH) – have confirmed that they had also had no discussions with the company about the PIP assessments.
Debbie Marriner, a welfare rights worker for DIAL Weston-super-Mare, said that any suggestion that her organisation had discussed the contracts with Atos was “completely false and erroneous”.
She said: “We have no interest in working with Atos and actually I have had extremely negative dealings with them, and so have my claimants.”
Dianne Cowen, manager of the user-led independent living service Disability North, said her organisation “does not have a relationship with Atos and has never discussed working with them either before the tender document or after its submission”.
SAMH also confirmed that Atos had not approached it to discuss working together on PIP, although it said that it was “prepared to consider doing so if we are approached directly”.
The three further confirmations mean that all six disability organisations mentioned by Atos in the two tender documents as examples of “claimant representative groups” it could work with have now denied having any discussions with the company over a possible partnership.
This should increase pressure on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and the new Conservative minister for disabled people, Esther McVey, to investigate the claims that Atos misled the government in the tender documents.
DWP is also likely to face fresh questions itself after denying that references to disabled people’s organisations in the tender documents had had any impact on Atos winning the contracts.
A DWP spokeswoman told DNS: “The mention, or not, of any particular organisation in the bids to deliver PIP was not material in the evaluation. This had no impact on the result and there is no reason to review the competition.”
But this response appears to contradict a statement made in the DWP’s own Touchbase e-magazine in September, which stated that the “successful bidders… demonstrated close working with disabled people’s representative groups”.
The DWP has so far failed to comment on this apparent contradiction.
Meanwhile, Labour’s shadow disabled people’s minister, Anne McGuire, has told the Guardian that her party will ask the Commons public accounts committee to refer the Atos concerns to the National Audit Office if there are no “rapid answers” from DWP.
1 November 2012