COMMENT: DWP’s threat to DNS


By John Pring, editor of Disability News Service

It is fair to say that the Department for Work and Pensions is not disabled people’s favourite government department, but it is the one that Disability News Service (DNS) deals with most often. So when the DWP press office threatens to stop responding to DNS enquiries “with immediate effect”, it is a threat I have to take seriously. 

This blog will describe how this situation has come about. I hope that other disabled people will offer their opinions on whether I am behaving unreasonably, or whether the DWP is threatening DNS unfairly and potentially breaching the Equality Act. 

As many people will know, DNS has a number of subscribers who pay an annual or monthly fee for the right to use DNS stories on their own websites or in their magazines or newsletters, or sometimes solely for briefing purposes. The stories are sent out every Friday by email, usually at around 1pm. Most of these subscribers are disabled people’s organisations, and operate – like DNS – on tight budgets. 

I also place the stories on the DNS website, every Friday evening, at around 6pm. 

These news stories often rely on comments from DWP. Unfortunately, my relationship with the DWP press office – like many other journalists – has grown increasingly fractious over the last few years. This has partly come about due to frustration at DWP’s occasional habit of responding in a way that seeks to ignore/avoid the question and simply produce an answer that offers a PR truth, rather than an actual truth. 

Here’s an example: Several months ago, Mark Harper, the Conservative minister for disabled people, said in the Commons that he had talked to disability organisations and they agreed with the government that closing the Independent Living Fund and not ring-fencing the funding given to local authorities was the right thing to do. I asked DWP which organisations Harper was referring to. The answer I received was: “The Minister meets regularly with a broad range of disability groups.” Which, of course, does not answer the question at all. This, sadly, is not an isolated example.

Unfortunately, my relationship with DWP has now reached a new low, with the new chief press officer (disability), threatening to stop dealing completely with DNS. 

The latest problems began several weeks ago, when I approached the DWP press office by email at 8.50pm on a Wednesday evening for a comment on an Access to Work story I was working on. As always, I made it clear when my deadline was: in this case, the end of the following day. 

However, the press office did not respond to the email until 5.50pm on Friday, nearly two days after I emailed them with a request for a comment, more than four hours after I finished sending the stories to my subscribers, and nearly 24 hours after the deadline I had set. 

Later that evening, I thanked the press officer for her efforts, but said that the comment had come through far too late to be included in the story. That, I thought, would be that. 

However, I was contacted by another DWP press officer the next morning, asking if I intended to update the copy on my website to include the late response. I replied, explaining how DNS worked, and informing him that this would not be possible.

Two days later, I received an emailed letter from the chief press officer (disability), who warned that he was “not prepared to continue diverting precious time and resources to deal with detailed enquiries from DNS if you cannot guarantee that these answers will be acknowledged in your copy once they are received,” and that: “If DNS does not consider itself to be comparable to every other UK news organisation then it is not within the DWP Press Office’s remit to handle any of its enquiries and, in future, you will need to make your requests for information to the Department through the same methods as any other member of the public.”

If DNS stories appeared only on the DNS website, I would have no problem with the DWP request. It would be entirely reasonable. However, the stories also appear on the websites of my subscribers, and I do not feel comfortable updating my own website, but allowing theirs to continue with out-dated versions of my articles. Therefore, if I was to update my website, I would want to provide an updated story to my 20-odd subscribers. And if I did this with DWP, I would also need to do it with every other organisation that failed to produce a comment in time for my deadlines.

In the past, when DWP has sent me responses to stories far past the deadlines I have set, I have made it clear that this makes it more difficult for me to do my job, increases my anxiety levels, and ensures that my work hours increase. I currently work an average of 70-80 hours a week, and the DWP’s habit of continually missing deadlines and leaving it until the last possible moment to provide a comment has certainly had an impact on my mental health in the past. I have made it clear to the press office on many occasions that I would be grateful if they could try to meet my deadlines as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.

(I should, of course, point out that on the rare occasion that there is a significant factual mistake in a DNS story, I alert all of my subscribers to that error.)

Following this latest incident, I again made the DWP press office aware that to take on the extra workload of continually updating my subscribers throughout the week with developments on old stories, in addition to producing the next week’s stories, could have an adverse impact on my mental health and even make it impossible to continue with DNS. For that reason, I told the chief press officer (disability) that I believed it would be a reasonable adjustment for him to allow me to continue to operate DNS in the way that I have done for the last six years. 

Although this is not the way a typical news agency would operate, I do work alone, I have a mental health condition, I am extremely careful with my research, and I believe I behave responsibly in the way I work.

Sadly, the chief press officer (disability) is again threatening that unless I agree to the changes he has suggested, “the DWP Press Office will no longer be able to respond to DNS’s enquiries”.

I have had some extremely supportive comments from my subscribers, but would like to ask other disabled people whether I am being unreasonable, or whether I should resist DWP’s attempts to force me to change the way I work, rather than agreeing to what I believe is a reasonable adjustment.

John Pring can be contacted at 



  • User Ratings (37 Votes)
  • Sounds to me like “you meet corporate standards or you’re nothing”, which is not very much in line with open government.

    Personally, I’d fire back with some attempt at negotiation – ask what length of time they would consider reasonable to expect a reply within, and that if you request at shorter notice than that you might be able to consider updating things. Or that you will update if the response from the DWP indicates a factual error or omission. But to expect you to keep updating everything all the time is not reasonable for a one-man-band, especially where that one man is disabled.

    “No response at time of going to press” is used in some perfectly respectable online publications – they just post an additional story later if it seems merited. This seems to be the way The Register works, for instance. They update stories with corrections, but rarely do they update them with responses from a party to the story who’d failed to respond before the story went ‘to press’.

  • Samuel Miller

    You have my full support. I’m not at all surprised that you’re butting heads with the DWP. Your recent stories have put that department in the hot seat and they’re intent on retaliating. I’ve stated on numerous occasions that there’s a need for greater transparency from the DWP and less hypocrisy from its ministers.

  • johnmcardle

    Solidarity John!

  • sarah ismail

    You’ve explained your side well John. As you are asking for the adjustment to be made as a result of your MH condition, it is, of course, a reasonable one and should be made.

  • Martyn Butler

    One way around this is do as I do – If an absolute deadline is mid day Friday – Tell Everyone the deadline is actually 2 days earlier – because there is always one …………….
    It may not always work but IF an organisation is playing you to cause stress and inconvenience YOU get the last laugh

    • Thanks, Martyn. Sadly, DWP are very aware of my real deadlines now, although I do try to set earlier deadlines if I get a story early enough in the week. Even that doesn’t always work, though…

  • In no way are you acting unreasonably, the DWP appears to keep that particular action for themselves

  • Disgruntled Knome

    Stick to it kid, its just more bully tactics which I have seen from many officials when they simply don’t like being asked questions or having their mistakes highlighted.

    When it comes to the DWP, its more like a dictatorship than a public service, and if they had any sense they would understand such brash actions are a PR nightmare, and their continual trend in this way is part of the reason most people would lynch one of the staff given the choice.

    • Can’t agree with the lynching bit, but agree with the rest! I do suspect they have committed PR hara-kiri

  • Several different thought that don’t really tie in together apart from being about DWP being unreasonable.

    Firstly I actually think that their entire point is flawed. A print media source wouldn’t be expected to adjust an article post-publication, it’s physically impossible. That it is possible with online media doesn’t mean that they can automatically impose new standards. (This also raises the issue as to whether any other journalist/agency has been similarly threatened – are they holding you to a standard not expected of other press agencies).

    With respect to their demands, how much time are they demanding? It’s clearly unreasonable for them to expect you to be willing to modify articles months or years later (OTOH they do expect us to accept indefinite mandatory reconsideration!) I think you can reasonably ask them to give a hard deadline beyond which their delay is unreasonable.

    There may be a possible compromise, issue the DWP statement as an update with the next week’s pieces (which is clearly a reasonable adjustment given the way DNS actually works). And I don’t mean by modifying the original story, but as a separate ultra-short addendum: “In relation to story Blah, DWP, replying six days after deadline, stated ‘something nothing to do with the question’.” It meets their demand that their irrelevance be heard, but demonstrates that the problem is unreasonable delay on their part and doesn’t require your subscribers to take any action. (Though of course you need to be comfortable with it).

    As a wider issue, this raises severe concerns about the DWP Press Office, and the official in question. God knows I have precious few expectations of the DWP Press Office, but I do expect them to behave at least semi-professionally. It’s immediately clear that many activists will see this as you being punished for a) the Harper access stories, and b) DNS reporting in general, which throws away any remaining chance of DWP Press Office (Disability) as being seen as remotely neutral by disabled people. If they go ahead with this then I’ll certainly be writing to my MP and the Minister for Disabled People (whoever they turn out to be) stating my concerns at DWP moving to shut down the only specialist disability news agency, at the behaviour of the official in question, and doing my damnedest to make sure that this story gets the widest audience possible.

    And one thing’s for certain, ‘Disability Confident’ this isn’t!

    • Thanks, David. Interesting ideas, although not sure issuing a separate ultra-short addendum would please me, my subscribers or the DWP. So grateful for your support…

  • Michael Preston

    I think the press officers that you’re dealing with John are frankly acting like utter arses.

    The fact is that you gave them a reasonable amount of time to respond to a request for comment. They clearly ignored your request or missed it, but either way that’s their mess up not yours.

    The fact is that you’re a brilliant journalist and you write and report on disability in a powerful and accurate way. I suspect that this is the main reason that they’re pissed off with you, nothing to do with you acting in an unreasonable way at all, more because you frequently expose their utter and complete incompetence and of course that the minister can’t answer a straight forward qyuestion when asked.

    Please don’t be disheartened, hang in there and keep fighting the good fight.

    • Thanks, Michael. Really grateful.

      • Michael Preston

        No more than you deserve John. You’re one of the good guys. Those of us who know you know that.

  • britishroses

    Stand your ground, you are not been unreasonable the DWP are bullying you they of all people should be bending over backwards to meet your minor adjustments. If I were you I would seek legal advice! You provide a much needed and weekly anticipated news service, how dare they! Take care of yourself first and foremost John and thank you very much for all that you do.

    • Currently considering my options, but all the supportive comments have been incredibly helpful. Thanks!

  • Thanks, that’s helpful…

    • Mwxxx .

      Cool… and if you think that there is any dishonesty (discrimination, misconduct, abuse etc) that might be putting you at risk of a loss have a look at –
      Fraud Act 2006 –

      What sort of ‘press officer’ doesn’t understand what the word “Deadline” means?

      If you get any more um.. ‘stuff’ from the dwp… quote some laws at them and remind them that you know how to contact the police.
      I have to do that with those ‘bleeps’ all the time… they crawl back under their rocks.

  • Katy Dawes

    John, you have not been at all unreasonable! Stand you ground, you do an amazing job xxxx

  • Sean Kelly

    If i read it correctly you asked for a comment at 8.50 pm at night, well frankly thats not what anyone wants to receive while opening the second bottle 🙂 I would suggest you simply just provide a longer response time, it’s not time sensitive stuff in the main. Then if they fail still to respond within a deadline as generous as a week you can state this at the end of the article and thats all the more damming. John look after yourself.

    • Thanks, Sean. It was 8.50pm on the Wednesday and they had until about noon on the Friday. I often can’t give them more than a day or two because I need to get the stories out. A day-and-a-half should be enough, even for a complicated story.

      • Sean Kelly

        I agree totally that your time frame is reasonable with all the mandarins at DWP’s disposal to get your comment, but what i mean is a declared “DWP were given 7 days to investigate and respond and yet failed to respond would be powerful and torpedo their fair right to reply narrative that they were not given enough time to respond.

  • Mo Stewart

    I would suggest that the DWP know exactly what they are doing John. They are aware that your work is important and that vast numbers of disabled people and carers extract detailed information from it, which makes them better informed and more able to challenge the DWP’s constant attack against us using austerity measures. It is my understanding that you have not behaved unreasonably and that, for the DWP to threaten you in this way, is another demonstration of that department using intimidation against those they think can’t fight back. I have no doubt that this stance by the DWP will be taken with the full approval of the Minister for Disabled people, Mark Harper, and they all spend a lot of time attempting to avoid direct answers to direct questions.