Claims that the private IT firm Atos made misleading statements about proposed co-operation with disability groups to help secure a £400m contract to perform disability assessments must be immediately investigated, Labour and several disability charities have demanded.
Leaked information from the tendering documents reveal that the firm said it would work with a number of disability organisations to carry out eligibility tests for a new disability benefit. Four of the organisations named in the document said they had no contact with Atos before being named as possible partners and strongly objected to any suggestion that they planned to co-operate with the company.
Anne McGuire, the shadow minister for disabled people, said the process by which Atos won the contract should be scrutinised by external auditors. “These revelations raise extremely serious questions over the £540m PIP [personal independence payment] contracts. There is now clear evidence that Atos won a £400m contract with a bid that was misleading,” she said. “There must be an immediate investigation because the integrity of the entire process is now in serious doubt. Ministers must now explain exactly how these claims got through unchecked.”
She said the party would ask the public accounts committee to refer the matter to the National Audit Office if there were no “rapid answers”. In its bid for contracts to provide assessments for PIP, which is due to replace the disability living allowance from 2013, Atos said it would be working in partnership with charities “such as” the Essex Coalition of Disabled People (ECDP), the Greater Manchester Coalition for Disabled People (GMCDP) and Disability Cornwall.
Several of the charities named said they were surprised to find themselves on the list and made it clear they would never consider working with Atos, which has been much criticised for inaccuracies and lack of sensitivity on the part of staff carrying out another disability test, the work capability assessment (WCA). This determines eligibility for a different disability benefit.
Disability Cornwall said in an emailed statement: “We would not consider working with an organisation which has caused so much distress to so many disabled people. We have also voiced our concerns about how Atos Healthcare were able to win contracts [and] implied it would work with organisations such as ourselves without first seeking permission from the organisations it quoted.
1st November 2012