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ATOS should not be able to shut down public debate

24 Aug 2011

Citizens Advice Scotland are calling on the government to rule on whether a publicly-funded agency should be able to shut down public debate on its poor performance.

ATOS Healthcare is the company responsible for assessing whether sick and disabled people should receive the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). They have been shown to be making huge numbers of flawed decisions however, causing misery for thousands of vulnerable people. And now they have moved to close down public criticism of their record by issuing libel threats against websites which host forums for people who report their negative experiences.

CAS Chief Executive Lucy McTernan said,

“Scottish CABs have heard from thousands of sick and disabled people who have been unhappy with the treatment they received from ATOS. Their assessment system has been shown to be deeply flawed right from the start and the evidence for this is overwhelming. Over a third of all appeals made against ATOS decisions are successful. And every decision they get wrong causes unnecessary distress to people who are severely sick and disabled.

“It is no surprise therefore that the internet is full of complaints against them. We have been gathering and presenting peoples’ negative experiences of ATOS for three years now – ever since they were first given the contract for managing the ESA assessments. And a whole host of other organisations are now joining us to present similar evidence – including some of the government experts who first devised the system.

“So those who are criticising ATOS are not cranks or troublemakers. Many of them are people who have suffered terribly at the hands of a system which is not working as it should. Others are taxpayers, who are entitled to know that their money is not being wasted.

“We feel it is unfortunate therefore that ATOS have responded in this way. Rather than trying to silence their critics and shut down public debate, it would be better if they addressed the very legitimate concerns that are being raised.

“Given that ATOS is paid taxpayers money to provide a public service, we will be writing to the government to ask whether they feel ATOS’s attempts to close down public discussion of its performance is appropriate.

“In the meantime, if people want a forum to report their experience and complaints with ATOS and the ESA, they can come to us. We have been the leading organisation gathering evidence of the flaws in this system for the last few years, and we will continue to do so. People can report their experience – and get advice on how to proceed in their case - through our website www.cas.org.uk or in person at their local CAB. Our advice, as always, is free, confidential and completely independent.”

For more information, interviews etc. please contact Tony Hutson on 0131 550 1010 or 07774 751655. NB This is the number of the CAS Press Office, for use by journalists only. If you are a member of the public looking for CAB advice please contact your local bureau.