Charities delivering the Department for Work and Pensions’ £400m welfare-to-work programme are not allowed to criticise the government, according to official documents.
In response to a freedom of information request by Disability News Service (DNS), the DWP published details of its contracts with major suppliers of its Work and Health programme.
According to DNS, the contracts include a “publicity, media and official enquiries” clause that instructs contractors to “pay the utmost regard to the standing and reputation” of the DWP and ensure they do nothing that “damages the reputation of the contracting body or harms the confidence of the public in the contracting body”.
DNS reported that the "contracting body" refers to the secretary of state for the department Esther McVey and said this clause also applies to any of the contractor’s affiliates.
Charities have said the clause does not impinge on their ability to campaign and the DWP said the clause was introduced in 2015.
The Shaw Trust is the only charity servicing the Work and Health programme as a prime contractor, winning contracts worth £135m last year to provide services in the Central England and Home Counties regions.
It also services the West London pool of the programme, contracted sepearately by the Greater London Authority.
A spokesman for the charity said: “This is a clause we have had in previous DWP contracts and does not and has not impinged on our independence as a charity.”
RNIB provides a number of different services for the Shaw Trust as a subcontractor but a spokeswoman said the contracts it had signed would not restrict its campaigning activity.
She said: “Some of the contracts do include a clause stating that when providing the services, we shall not do anything that may damage the reputation of the Shaw Trust or of the DWP which has commissioned the services to be carried out by the Shaw Trust.
“However, this clause only refers to how we carry out the contracted services and does not restrict our campaigning ability. It relates solely to how we carry out the specific services.”
Leonard Cheshire, which works as a subcontractor for private firm Ingeus in Central London, also denied the contract would restrict its campaigning ability.
A spokesman for the charity said: “Our involvement is extremely limited and part of Ingeus’ delivery in specific areas of London.
“This in no way compromises our ability to campaign around issues related to payments or social care reform, and indeed we have been extremely vocal in our calls for reform and additional long-term funding. This will continue.”
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Royal Association for Deaf People, which is a subcontractor for social enterprise Pluss, said: "If concerns arise during the term of a contract, we always work closely with our partner to find a mutually beneficial solution."
A DWP spokeswoman said the clause would not stop contractors raising concerns “directly with the department” nor would it stop employees acting as whistleblowers.
She said: “The department did not introduce this clause specifically for the Work and Health Programme contract.
“It has been used in DWP employment category contracts since 2015. The contract is the framework which governs the relationship with DWP and its contractors so that both parties understand how to interact with each other.
“The clause is intended to protect the best interests of both the department and the stakeholders we work with, and it does not stop individuals working for any of our contractors from acting as whistle-blowers under the provisions of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 1998, nor does it prevent contractors from raising any concerns directly with the department.”