The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) tried to prevent its most controversial private sector contractor winning a five-year £338 million contract to provide disability benefit assessments, court documents suggest.
Together, the contracts will be worth more than two billion pounds over the five years from 2024 to 2029.
But when the successful private sector bidders were announced by Tom Pursglove, the minister for disabled people, he revealed that Atos – which has been carrying out benefit assessments for DWP for nearly 20 years – had failed to win a single contract.
Atos has been blamed for countless deaths in connection with the WCA process, and for dishonest reports written by many of its PIP assessors.
But Pursglove failed to reveal the winner of the £338 million contract to provide assessments in the south-west of England.
Disability News Service (DNS) can now reveal why he did not announce the successful fifth contractor.
DWP had initially awarded the contract to the multinational Serco, ahead of Atos, after an evaluation of the two bids saw Serco come out ahead on the scoring system by just three per cent.
But Atos disputed the fairness of that decision and took DWP and work and pensions secretary Mel Stride to the high court’s technology and construction court.
In legal documents obtained by DNS – including its particulars of claim – Atos argued that DWP had scored Serco’s bid higher than it should have done.
Atos stated: “On a lawful and robust evaluation, [Atos] would have been the highest scoring tenderer.
“In any event, or alternatively, the [Serco] bid should have been excluded. In either circumstance, [Atos] would have been awarded the contract.”
Atos claimed Serco’s bid was incomplete and submitted late, and that it was allowed to add to its bid after the deadline, despite instructions to potential bidders that this would not be allowed.
It also suggested that chunks of the Serco bid had been cut and pasted from its unsuccessful bid for the assessment contract for Wales and the Midlands, as it contained irrelevant references to Wales and the Welsh language.
It concluded that DWP’s bid evaluators had taken a stricter approach to evaluating Atos’s bid than Serco’s.
Atos had been asking the court to award damages, to set aside the decision to award the contract to Serco, and to order DWP to re-evaluate the bids or re-run the procurement process.
The technology and construction court had initially agreed to suspend the decision to award the contract to Serco.
But a judge lifted that suspension on 16 May, with the written consent of Atos.
DWP is now believed to have agreed to relaunch the process to find a contractor to carry out assessments in the south-west.
DWP said this week that the process of awarding the contract was continuing and that it would announce the result in due course.
It also claimed that the department had complied with its obligations of equal treatment and non-discrimination under the Public Contracts Regulations 2015.
It declined to explain why the court had lifted the suspension.
Atos earned more than £465 million from delivering WCAs before it withdrew from the contract in 2015, following years of negative publicity and multiple links between its actions and the deaths of disabled claimants.
But Atos healthcare professionals were also repeatedly accused of dishonesty in the provision of PIP assessments, following a DNS investigation.
DNS reports this week how a disabled man had his benefits slashed after an Atos nurse lied about what he told her during an assessment about his pain and suicidal thoughts, and repeatedly under-stated how his health conditions affected his day-to-day life, in the latest example of a dishonest assessment report produced by an Atos assessor (see separate story).
Asked how it responded to the concerns raised by Atos in the particulars of claim, whether it had given Serco preferential treatment, and if it had, whether this was because it did not want Atos to be awarded any of the assessment contracts due to its past track record, a DWP spokesperson said: “DWP contracts are awarded through open and transparent procurement under the Public Contracts Regulations and in line with government policies.”
Atos said it had nothing to add to the court documents.
A Serco spokesperson confirmed this week that “the procurement process is still live”, but he declined to comment further.
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