The company responsible for carrying out disability benefit assessments across Wales and central England is facing a revolt by disabled staff over allegations of widespread discrimination.
They say that Capita – already under fire over its performance in assessing claimants of personal independence payment, the government’s new disability benefit – appears to have no proper policies in place to manage staff protected under the Equality Act.
The employees all work for Service Birmingham, a joint enterprise that is two-thirds owned by Capita and one-third by Birmingham City Council and aims to “transform” the council’s public services, including its IT services and call centre.
Capita was criticised last autumn after Service Birmingham’s pre-tax profits leapt by more than half to £21 million.
Disability News Service (DNS) has heard from four disabled members of Service Birmingham staff, who have all raised concerns about the way Capita treats its disabled employees, as well as other issues about the way the company is run.
At least one member of staff is taking the organisation to a tribunal, while there are said to have been “multiple” grievances brought internally by other disabled employees.
One whistleblower has now come forward to raise concerns with the Labour councillor who chairs Service Birmingham, Dr Barry Henley – copying his email to the council leader, Sir Albert Bore – after trying unsuccessfully to persuade the company to deal with the issues internally.
In his email reply, Henley says that another whistleblower has raised similar concerns.
Henley told DNS: “At the moment they are all being investigated. I have not seen a final report but all the whistleblower investigations are having an independent investigation and eventually there will be an outcome.”
Disabled employees say they have asked repeatedly for the support they need, but their requests have been turned down or equipment has taken months to arrive.
Staff who have been denied reasonable adjustments under the Equality Act have then been handed warnings for taking time off sick, or have been demoted.
One was even told to go home by a manager because the organisation did not have the correct workplace adjustment in place to support her, but when she returned to work she was given a warning by the company’s human resources department.
Another – when she raised concerns that new duties she was being asked to do were inaccessible to her – was told to sign a new contract that was identical to those given to her colleagues, but without the annual pay increment.
Service Birmingham even admitted to one member of staff that it had “no idea” how to manage someone protected by the Equality Act.
One disabled employee told DNS: “I felt I was having to push and push and push for any support. Even if something was put on the table by a manager, they would then forget about it.”
He has to attend regular hospital appointments because of his impairment, but Service Birmingham managers tried to stop him attending, with one telling him: “You have to fall in line with everyone else.”
He was told he would no longer be paid if he needed to attend a hospital appointment because “it needs to be the same for everybody”.
Another disabled staff member said: “They really don’t know what they are doing. Capita want to be seen as all-singing and all-dancing, but the way they treat their staff is appalling.”
A third employee, who has also spoken to DNS, said he had been given a formal warning for time taken off due to a health condition.
He said: “I want to speak up about what happened to me so that none of my colleagues with disabilities has to go through what I went through.
“Line managers are woefully trained when it comes to what the law actually is with regards to the Equality Act.”
DNS has also heard from a fourth disabled member of staff, who has provided details of how she was bullied by a manager, and told that she would either have to perform work that was inaccessible to her or take sick leave against her wishes, as well as facing other discrimination.
She said the bullying had affected her career, her health and her personal life.
Capita said in a statement: “No tribunals have been upheld in favour of our current or former Service Birmingham employees, including anything related to disability discrimination.
“Capita is committed to providing all of its employees with equal opportunities and putting in place reasonable adjustments for employees with a disability.
“In some parts of the Capita PIP business, Capita has pledged that 40 per cent of the workforce is made up of people with a disability. We work closely with disability organisations and aim to create a culture where disability is embraced.
“Although we would not comment on individual cases, these allegations are vague and do not contain sufficient information for us to respond. If an employee raises a concern, we will investigate robustly and take the appropriate action.”
The statement did not make any reference to the ongoing independent investigations into the whistleblowers’ allegations.
News provided by John Pring at www.disabilitynewsservice.com