A disabled MP and members of the House of Lords are set to question the government this week over the award of a £184 million disability assessment contract to the controversial contractor Atos Healthcare.
Disability News Service revealed last week that Atos had broken a series of promises that helped it win the contract to assess disabled people across London and the south of England for the new personal independence payment (PIP).
The failure by Atos to fulfil those pledges means that many disabled people will have much further to travel to their assessment centres.
The disabled Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Lloyd said he would be writing to the Conservative work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith “seeking clarification and also asking him what penalties the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) intend to use if it is proved that Atos have deliberately used incorrect data in their tender document”.
He said: “I am extremely concerned by this information as it appears Atos may have won a substantial contract using false information. If this is the case then actions must be taken against them.”
The concerns are also set to be raised during a one-hour debate on welfare reform on Monday (24 June), in which the Conservative welfare reform minister Lord Freud will respond for the coalition.
The crossbench peer Lord Alton said that “many peers from all sides of the House have registered their concerns about Atos” and are worried about the assessment contracts they had been awarded.
He said: “During the debate on Monday evening the government will be pressed to clarify whether they still believe that they are a suitable company to carry out this task.”
Lord Alton also has concerns about those disabled people who will lose their Motability vehicles after being assessed for PIP and found no longer eligible for the highest rate of mobility support.
He said: “The lack of clarity about the ones who will be affected and the failure to put in place a safety net to catch anybody who will be affected is outrageous. It beggars belief.”
He said it was “irresponsible” of the government not to be able to say how many disabled people were likely to be affected.
Lord Alton pledged to highlight the concerns about the award of the PIP assessment contract to Atos during the debate if other members, such as the disabled peer Baroness [Tanni] Grey-Thompson, do not raise the issue.
Anne McGuire, Labour’s shadow minister for disabled people, also spoke out about the concerns this week.
She said: “Atos made great play of the fact that they were going to deliver many of the face-to-face assessments using NHS organisations as their sub-contractors.
“They were very clear that this was about a change of tone and style for the PIP assessment, and it is frankly amazing that it now appears that many of those sub-contracts were never properly confirmed.”
Atos won the contract by boasting of its “extensive” network of 16 NHS trusts, two private hospital chains, and four physiotherapy providers, all of which it said would provide sites where assessments would take place.
But in the months after it was awarded the contract, all but four of the NHS trusts and both of the private healthcare providers dropped out.
Atos insists there were “absolutely no misrepresentations” made to DWP and that the government “fully appreciated” that Atos had no formal agreements with the trusts at the time the tender document was submitted.
DWP says it is confident that the providers for each of the contracts were “properly selected following rigorous evaluation”, and that it was “always obvious” that the partners listed in the tender “could only be based on initial exploratory discussions”.
20 June 2013