Leading campaigners have fiercely criticised the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC), after new figures showed it has failed to make vital improvements to the number of disabled people who use its website and helplines.
In October 2008, at the end of its first year, senior EHRC figures promised to take action to increase the number of people using its national helplines and visiting its website.
But more than 18 months on, and more than two-and-a-half years after its launch, new figures obtained from the EHRC by Disability News Service show it is still struggling.
The figures show the EHRC’s three helplines have dealt with just 57,120 disability-related queries across England, Scotland and Wales in more than two-and-a-half years.
This is a slight improvement on its first year, when there were about 30,000 calls, just in England and across all of the seven equality “strands”.
But it still compares dismally with the 104,000 calls on disability made to the Disability Rights Commission’s helpline in just one year.
The EHRC also managed to increase the number of “visitor sessions” on its website from about 120,000 a month in its first year to about 150,000 six months later.
But a major technical problem in June 2009 meant this plummeted to 13,000 a month, and has now crept back up to about 100,000 a month, many of which will not be disability-related.
This compares with the DRC website, which reached an average of 300,000 “visitor sessions” a month in its final full year, all of which would have been disability-related.
Some critics have blamed the EHRC’s failure to run prominent campaigns on disability rights or to use its website as a “knowledge bank” on equality, as the DRC did.
Neil Coyle, a former DRC policy manager and now director of policy for the charity Disability Alliance, said the figures were “hugely disappointing”.
He said: “Disability Alliance is frequently contacted by people who might be better supported by the statutory body responsible for monitoring the Disability Discrimination Act [the EHRC].”
He said disabled people, employers, service-providers and carers needed access to information on their rights, good practice guidelines and other resources.
He added: “To learn that the EHRC is not providing even the same level of support as the DRC is a massive disappointment.”
Marie Pye, former head of public sector delivery at the DRC, questioned why the EHRC seemed to have failed to evaluate the performance of its website and helplines and act on the findings, as would have happened at the DRC.
She said: “They need to find out why people are not contacting them, why people aren’t using the web site, and they need to sort it out. They need to get their act together.”
An EHRC spokesman said: “We recognise that we would like the figures to be higher and we will be working to improve them.”
He said the EHRC realised there was a “serious issue” with how well the website was working, and there were plans to re-launch an improved version.
But he said that improving website visitor numbers had not been helped by the “catastrophic failure” in June 2009.
He added: “We have now successfully reorganised our helpline in a way that is going to give clients a much better service.”