DWP ‘threatened to dock terminally-ill woman’s benefits’ if she paid for her own funeral


A terminally-ill woman was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that she risked being charged with an “offence” and would lose part of her benefits if she used an insurance policy windfall to pay for her own funeral.

DWP bosses told Sue Smith that spending the £3,700 in advance on her funeral would be seen as “deprivation of capital” – deliberately spending her savings in order to maintain entitlement to benefits.

Smith, from south Devon, had contacted DWP after being told about the £3,700 refund, because she wanted to be sure that she did not fall foul of any regulations if she spent the money on paying in advance for her funeral.

But when she approached DWP, and made it clear that she was terminally-ill, she was told that she could lose part of her employment and support allowance (ESA) payment – she has estimated that it could have cost her about £15 a week – and could even be seen as committing an “offence”.

Smith, who uses oxygen 24-hours-a-day, said she felt “threatened, hurt and distressed” by the warning, and was now at her “wit’s end”.

Smith said: “I expected them to agree that it was a good use of my own money.

“I could understand it if someone was given £100,000 from a lottery win or inheritance, blew it on a Ferrari, and then went back to DWP and said, ‘Sorry, I’m skint now, I want my benefits.’

“But this is not the case with me. Surely they need to rewrite the rules so there is clear provision to allow someone to pay to bury themselves once they are terminally-ill.”

Smith was told in May 2014 that she had between 12 and 18 months left to live, as a result of emphysema and other health conditions, and had an end-of-life care plan put in place by her local hospice, which involved making her will and funeral arrangements, and tidying her financial affairs.

She spent nine years with the Royal Navy, and then ran her own successful business for 15 years.

She became ill in 2001 after becoming injured in a chemical incident, but carried on working for another seven years.

Smith said: “If you can’t spend your own capital on your own burial, there is something seriously wrong with the regulations.

“I intend to fight on as best I can, but any little thing that causes anxiety and stress affects my breathing and tires me out more.”

After Disability News Service approached the department about her case, a DWP manager phoned Smith and told her that she could cash the cheque and spend it on her funeral.

Smith said she now wanted this position to be written into ESA regulations so that if someone is terminally-ill, they have “the automatic right to spend a lump sum within reason on their funeral”.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Income-related ESA takes into account all of a claimant’s available capital, including any policies or assets that can be cashed in.

“This is to ensure that there is provision for those with limited funds of their own.

“A decision-maker looks at each case on its own merits to decide whether any capital asset should be taken into account. These decisions carry a right of appeal.”

She added later that Smith had been advised “in general terms” that if she went ahead with her plans “without seeking advice from DWP it may have an impact on her ESA claim”, and that paying for her funeral “could be considered deprivation of capital”.

She said that Smith was “given general advice and then provided with specific guidance on her individual circumstances”.

But when asked to clarify whether Smith was or was not originally told definitively that she could not use the money to pay for her funeral, and that to do so might be considered an offence, she declined to comment further.

  • User Ratings (39 Votes)
  • Dean Stockton

    I wouldn’t have contacted them and just bought the funeral plan after all the person is going to die what can they do once the person is dead NOTHING!

    • Snohare

      Yes, but in the meantime they’d stop her benefits, and the appeal would probably take her the rest of her life. (Large sums going into her account would probably have triggered an automatic investigation, anyway.)
      To be fair, they did at least decide the right thing relatively quickly. That’s not par for the course with DWP, sadly, but they do have some good people left.

      • Dean Stockton

        But what the DWP don’t know doesn’t hurt them and by the time they find out she paid for a funeral in advance, which IMHO, would be after the fact all they could do is chase up the executer of the will and if the executer is a solicitor they won’t get a penny.

        • Snohare

          When you fill in a claim for benefits of any sort, there is a bit at the back that asks you if you give permission to look at bank details. Of course, if you don’t, you don’t get benefits…
          This enables the DWP to set up an automatic alert system that is triggered by any abnormal spending or income. You do not get a say in this. I’m not sure how rapid it is, but I know from other forums that people going on holiday, or acting as executors for others (ironically) have had benefits stopped and/or been quizzed by the DWP about the moneys in their account – both spending, and income. So any large sum going in will inevitably trigger an enquiry, probably within a month.
          No stone too small to overturn, when it comes to getting money from the smaller people…

  • David Barron

    Absolutely dreadful treatment of someone who just wants to make sure that no one else has to pay for her funeral.

  • Katy Dawes

    Absolutely shocking of the DWP!!! How can they treat another human being in this way?

  • Chris Giles

    Again Iain Duncan Smith shows that he’s worthy of his name – or rather, an anagram of it: “Indict as inhuman”!

  • DC

    Today I tried to find to get advice regarding a mobility scooter. Despite what they say in the statement “in general terms” that if she went ahead with her plans “without seeking advice from DWP it may have an impact on her ESA claim”, they said to me that they will only decide AFTER I have spent it! So, I have to commit to the purchase, then may find I is decided it is “notional capital” so could still end up losing benefit. My main point though is that, once again, the DWP in the statement above have misled people. They will not advise BEFORE purchase.

  • Peter Cook

    I do hope that karma exists – the DWP are pure scum