Assist UK, which leads the national network of Disabled Living Centres, is one of the disability organisations that helped Capita win one of three government contracts to assess claimants of the new personal independence payment (PIP), the planned replacement for working-age disability living allowance (DLA).
Assist UK offered advice to Capita as it prepared its bid, and is now likely to work alongside the company to help it deliver the contract to provide assessments across Wales and central England.
Another DPO, Croydon Disability Forum, has also been offering advice to Capita through membership of the Centre of Excellence for Sensory Impairment (COESI), an umbrella organisation of Croydon-based disability charities and a social enterprise.
Assist UK is set to help train assessors and potentially provide premises for the assessments to take place, while Capita says it hopes 40 per cent of “advisers, centre hosts and administrators” will be disabled people or have long-term health conditions.
Assist UK hopes many of these assessments will take place in Disabled Living Centres, many of which are facing financial problems due to cuts in funding from local authorities.
But Alan Norton, chief executive of Assist UK, said his organisation would only be involved with the assessments if Capita ensured they were carried out in a “fair, open and clear way”.
He said Assist UK was confident Capita could achieve this, “based on the work that has been undertaken so far”.
But he said he hoped that both Capita and Atos Healthcare – which delivers the controversial work capability assessments (WCAs) for incapacity benefits claimants, and has won the other two PIP contracts – would not cause disabled people the same “worry, stress and reduced independence” they had been exposed to through the WCA.
Carol-Ann Peakin, chair of Croydon Disability Forum, said the forum would also withdraw from working with Capita “if we thought they were ignoring our advice and people were being treated unfairly”.
She said: “We have been making sure they understand the needs of disabled people. Our main concern is that people are assessed fairly.
“We want to protect our members because they are worried [about PIP, the new assessment and the government’s proposed cuts of 20 per cent to working-age DLA spending].”
And she said the forum would be “watching closely” how Atos performed with its PIP contracts, one of which covers the Croydon area.
Norton said Assist UK had decided to work with Capita despite the risk of involvement with an assessment that will help the government cut spending.
He said: “It is going to happen no matter what we do, so we might as well be part of it and keep control of some of the process and have a voice.
“We will be monitoring and watching what’s happening all the way along and if there is bad process and it goes pear-shaped we will pull out straight away.”
He said he hoped disabled people who attend Disabled Living Centres (DLC) to be assessed will benefit from advice and support offered by DLC staff, including information on assistive technology that could help maintain their independence, and will be helped to appeal if wrongly found ineligible for PIP.
He said: “We do not want disabled people left on the scrap heap. We want to direct them to where they can get further help: financial help, product advice, what their rights might be.”
Despite working with Capita, Norton said his organisation “strongly disagrees” with the PIP assessment criteria the government has drafted.
He said: “Assist UK considers the PIP assessment criteria to be flawed and in its present form not fit for purpose and could sentence many to a life of entrapment, poverty and social isolation.”
He said Assist UK would “continue to press for changes to the assessment criteria”.
And he was critical of the civil servants responsible for putting the assessment together.
He said: “I have concerns that the policy people at the Department for Work and Pensions who are working on this may not have the experience or knowledge they need to put these processes together.”