Fresh evidence that DWP bars email communication from disabled claimants

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Fresh evidence has emerged that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to allow benefit claimants to communicate via email, despite its claims that it allows disabled people with “valid reasons” to do so.

Last week, one disabled PIP claimant, Mark Lucas, told how he was taking legal action against DWP for refusing to allow him to communicate with its civil servants via email as a reasonable adjustment under the Equality Act.

DWP insisted in its response that “claimants are entitled to request to receive all communications from the department by email on the grounds of disability under the Equality Act 2010”.

But after Lucas’s story was published, other disabled people have come forward to cast doubt on that response, and have described how DWP has refused to let them deal with their benefit claims by email.

One claimant, disabled campaigner Graham Kirwan, who represents Dudley Centre for Inclusive Living on accessible information issues, told Disability News Service (DNS) that DWP paid him £1,700 damages to settle his claim against the department for refusing to communicate with him by email over his personal independence payment (PIP) claim.

In settling the case, which Kirwan took himself as a “litigant in person”, DWP admitted that it had failed to make reasonable adjustments for him, stating: “The Department accepts that it has not sent you communications in your required format and that it has taken an unreasonably long time to agree and make the reasonable adjustments you have requested.”

Kirwan had previously been a long-term claimant of disability living allowance (DLA), but had his payments suspended when he failed to respond to letters asking him to apply for PIP, its working-age replacement, letters that he says he never received and that would not have been accessible to him anyway.

Kirwan, who is partially-sighted, has computer software that can magnify text, but it does not usually work with scanned or PDF documents.

He was told by DWP to use the charity Citizens Advice to help with his PIP application, but he wanted to fill it in himself so he could be sure the answers were accurate.

Now, thanks to his legal victory, Kirwan – who was also responsible in 2015 for persuading NHS England to publish its first accessible information standard, thanks to another legal action – has secured a promise that DWP will communicate with him only via email.

Another disabled benefit claimant, David*, told DNS this week how DWP has repeatedly refused to allow him to communicate via email, even though he can become easily confused on the telephone.

He said: “It significantly discriminates against me as I am unable to either reliably answer the phone, or when I do so answer questions reliably and sensibly, causing both immediate stress and worsening of my conditions, and the real likelihood of bad decisions.”

Dr Sarah Campbell, principal co-author of the Spartacus report, which led to the We Are Spartacus online movement, has been told “many times” by DWP that it will not allow her to contact the department by email – rather than by telephone and post – when she is eventually transferred from DLA to PIP.

She first raised concerns in 2013 that DWP was not allowing claimants to apply for PIP online.

At the time, DWP said it was “working with disability groups and claimants as PIP is rolled out to see which parts of the process should be made online, and this is likely to be put in place after the independent review in 2014”.

But Campbell said: “It seems nothing has changed since the issues were raised. I know I will struggle with the initial phone call (concentrating for that long is difficult and I am concerned I will provide wrong info) and then there is the form itself.

“I have contacted the DWP many times about this from the moment PIP was introduced.

“I have categorically been told every time that I cannot contact them electronically, nor can I send an electronic version of the form.”

A fourth claimant, Susan*, has told DNS how DWP has repeatedly refused to allow her to communicate via email, even though she cannot use the telephone.

The way she gets around this is by emailing the DWP complaints department, and asking it to forward her email to the relevant benefit team.

DNS has seen one email to Susan from the DWP complaints department in 2013 in which the civil servant says: “I can assure you that I have requested an urgent response from Newcastle Benefit Centre but I am unable to confirm that it will be today and unfortunately customers are only able to contact the Benefit Centres either by post or phone.”

Another, from 2015, confirms that her local benefit centre does “not have a central email address for claimant contact”.

Lucas advised other disabled claimants who face a DWP refusal to allow them to communicate via email to take similar legal action to his.

He said that some claimants in England and Wales who face discrimination might be able to use legal aid to secure free and confidential advice from Civil Legal Advice.

DWP has declined to comment on the fresh evidence provided by DNS, despite having more than two days to do so.

A DWP spokesman had asked if the deadline could be extended to the end of today (Thursday) – about six hours after DNS’s weekly stories are sent to subscribers – because DNS had already submitted requests for DWP comments on two other detailed stories this week.

When it was pointed out that this would not be possible, he directed DNS to the DWP comment on last week’s story.

DWP said in its statement last week: “Claimants are entitled to request to receive all communications from the department by email on the grounds of disability under the Equality Act 2010.

“When such a request is received, it must be for a valid reason which relates to the individual’s disability, that is, the customer finds it more difficult or they are unable to communicate and use our services through usual communication and contact routes because of their disability.

“We would also seek to explore whether alternative adjustments (eg large print/Braille) may suffice, but if this is not possible then email communications may be agreed.

“We don’t email claimants as a matter of course due to the potential risks these pose to citizens and DWP.

“In addition DWP must operate within its legislative framework and follow our business processes including records management. Therefore email correspondence must be carefully managed.”

*Not their real names

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  • MJ

    Let’s hope when (if they do) the DWP respond this time, they are honest and sincere in what they say – e.g, that they are genuinely and sincerely sorry for consistently denying many claimants’, with disabilities, reasonable adjustments in order for the claimants to access its services. A genuine apology should be offered in addition to a real commitment to review claimants’ reasonable adjustment requests. Recompense, too – but money is not what this is about.

    I have had three disability discrimination complaints against the DWP. DWP eventually upheld two of the complaints, but only after my having to take the complaint to Stage 2, and involving the Equality Advisory Support Service. The third, is exactly what this article is about: DWP refusing email access, despite inability to use a telephone and housebound disabled. For over three years, the DWP has repeatedly refused me email access. I expect to receive, as above, a genuine and sincere apology, and my request, for email contact, as a reasonable adjustment, agreed.

    I will be watching this case and plan to take legal advice myself – thank you for the advice Mark Lucas – wishing you all the best in your case.

    • Alan Skidmore

      So saddening to hear how our Society allows it’s most vulnerable members to be abused and violated in this way especially by the DWP in not making its services properly available to customers. More people need to complainant take their grievances to tribunals if we are to bring about reform and equality for others in the near future.

  • TM

    Right today is going to be spent complaining to both the DWP and my pretty useless MP friend of Farrage Hoey about this. As had DLA renewal disallowed cos reached Blackpool 3 days late, forced to claim PIP and wasn’t allowed to communicate via email despite requesting dyslexic, hearing difficulties and mobility problems. I’m well furious today!

    • Glad to hear this. You should be furious. I hope more and more disabled people complain about this, both to DWP and to their MPs…

    • Alan Skidmore

      Make sure that you do as the more of us who protest will spotlight the difficulties and unjustnesses we suffer. There is no proper and professional civil service as there used to be it just a national network of call centres with highly incompetent and rude and unpleasant Tele staff.

  • Leon Carter

    “We don’t email claimants as a matter of course due to the potential risks these pose to citizens and DWP.”

    What do they mean by that? if it is because of security reasons that is baloney as my council allows me to communicate via Email and there replies come via a secure server that requires me to enter a password to open it furthermore the Tax office uses Govt Gateway which is secure and which I use for my tax affairs even refunds are processed through it now.

    Govt are supposed to be moving over to digital and in many ways they are but it appears it is only when it suits them.

    • Alan Skidmore

      Absolute nonsense! The DWP make it up as it goes along. The reason it does like to email is that such exchanges of communications are admissible as evidence if cited in a court of law so it gets the DWP off the hook with a paper trail of evidence.

      • Leon Carter

        That is why it does NOT like to email

        • Alan Skidmore

          Sadly so. A Pip claimant is currently taking the DWP to court at present to protest his rights to email under the Equality and Discrimination Act. The DWP is very devious and untrustworthy.

    • Stirling

      Totally agree

      This Government stated a couple years ago that everything would go ‘digital by default’ and hence we get the useless website http://www.gov.uk – a pet project of Frances Maud MP.

      I disagree that everything should go completely digital as there are many people – particularly older people, who are computer illiterate and there are many people who cannot afford to have access to the internet at home, and libraries with free computers are a thing of the past.

      However, I see no reason why DWP does not follow thw HRMC, and allow people to submit their PIP either in paper hardcopy or by email, whichever is easier for the claimant. If the Tax office allows both methods, there is no security or data issue that means that a PIP form could not be completed online, or sent in by email. or in paper hardcopy

      The current system is designed to fail and would not pass any quality system audit. If you look on the PIP form, you have to return it to an adddress in Woverhampton, but the DWP office who process the claim are in Blackpool. However, the hard copy does not go to Blackpool. I was told that the forms when they arrive are scanned onto the computer in Wolverhampton and Blackpool et al then process the claim using electronic copies.

      So if they use scanned in documents internally, and there are electronic files for each case, why can’t the claimant correspond digitally? In a so called civilised society , the whole PIP process and appeals sytem seems to be something that would be found in a third world dicatatorship and not the uk in 2017.

  • Alan Skidmore

    I am having a very hard time with the DWP trying to make new appointee account arrangements for my severely disabled sister who cannot care for herself and has lost our mother recently in death who was her full time carer. Communication is difficult with Tele staff as they are so insensitive and badly trained. Letters get ignored and where Innate had to assert myself on the phone as Personal Representative I have been cut off and spoken disrespectfully to. Am now referring the matter to my M.P. to investigate as although my sister r has been awarded both ESA and in the beholder group and DLA the DWP cannot be bothered to carry out the necessary administrative home visit to set up a new appointee account so that she can carry on receiving her benefits. We as a family are also trying to grieve but the DWP does not give a flying fig!

  • Kathy Bramley

    I haven’t worked since leaving uni 20 years ago, bar a very traumatic 3yrs part time on checkouts in Asda where I was eventually asked to leave for breaking down on checkouts and generally not looking after myself. I briefly did apply for and recieved DLA, but this generally toxic info demand situation was a reason I let it lapse, as well as not wanting to be a burden financially on the country. My daughter’s claims were complex enough. She has needs in such a way we had to fill out every section of the form.

    • Leon Carter

      You are never a financial burden on the nation, it is our corrupt MPs who are

  • Andy

    I requested reasonable adjustment 7 times to DWP to notify changes first by voice and that I can’t just produce reams of written work, just been refused emailing evidence ( my MP emails them ) and told its due ( recorded ) to the fact it’s has to go to the scanning department to go on the system. So electronic you mean. I’m now having to get the mental health board as advocates, I was already awarded 24 yrs, I would rather not endure any MHB cost ( they have enough to do) I should be dealt with as an individual as I have no choice living alone……

  • MJ

    DWP Complaints Dept has just emailed this to me this afternoon. I had said that I had been asking for email contact for about three years as a reasonable adjustment. Complaints Dept response below doesn’t really correlate with the DWP’s response to DNS, does it…

    “Unfortunately it is not possible to provide emails for the Departments you wish to contact as they do not have separate Departmental emails addresses and you would only be able to email individual members of staff. Any concerns you have should be forwarded to our email address.”

  • Andy

    So the DWP have decided through reconsideration to not change my PIP award back to how it was and in doing so have broken their own rules regarding…. Receipt of evidence, voice evidence, relaying voice information, given out incorrect information, said calls are recorded (then said they are not when call transcripts requested), said case worker will be given recording evidence, given wrong information out regarding timeframes for action, told me i can’t do any more until case worker calls, they never did, decided prior to written evidence arriving from MP’s office via email as agreed. Based a mobility score on an incorrect assessment information having been told of the incorrect element of the report by voice and written. Have lied (recorded) as to process and content. Have quality assured the decision (voice told) but can’t tell me whom or which quality system they work to!! Have based a downgrade on “attending the meeting” even though they already have a complaint for forcing people to attend and are aware by virtue 2014 assessment that to do so is to risk A.B.H, which it did two days later (i bit my own molar out of my mouth whilst asleep – beyond teeth grinding stress, I have a compound disability. Have sent numerous letters out without voice communication even though they confirm my file has ‘to be notified by voice prior to any changes’. The content of the assessment is a pack of lies with loose attachment to what was said. Capita have stated although their staff carried out the assessment, the content within is solely the responsibility of the DWP! The report kindly contradicts itself and kindly highlights it can’t be true. They confirmed the case manager would review previous award conversation, they now say they haven’t but have awarded no change and thus passed it to tribunal which in the hope i won’t take issue – i will, three times of letting go past illegal and deliberate actions of others is enough………

    The assessment building has been reported to Dyfed Powys Fire Service Fire Officer for breach of fire regulations in its design, operation and maintenance.

    The assessment building doesn’t meet the required standards for DDA1995(equality act 2010) for BS8300 or ADM building regulations with 10 year exemption. I went back a few weeks latter and carried out a 20 min Access Audit on the building! Which i’m qualified to do and have done for many public/government buildings.

    The meeting holder negated their duties with regard to holding a safe meeting. (no information given on escape or emergency procedure)

    The meeting arranger stated ‘a risk assessment’ for attendance had been carried out, Requested – 03 Jan not received!

    The meeting holder blamed meeting arranger, (it was recognised by meeting holder i wasn’t well (neck position/breathing) and stated i could rearrange home visit ( having already got there!) Declined i’d waited long enough and made monumental efforts to attend. After all ‘you’ve done a risk assessment?” She stated that was ‘the meeting arrangers responsibility!

    Meeting holder has made visual observations and them recorded contradictions 3hrs later in the assessment.

    Meeting holder stated i wouldn’t be able able to use my assessment paperwork in the meeting ( i.e. the criteria for agenda) as she is to change the order!, deliberate.

    The meeting holder stated in assessment ‘i held my pen and wrote for half an hour notes on my paperwork’…. I photographed my paperwork after the meeting and showed my MP’s office, it has four words on it i wrote before the previous statement. One of them is morphine!!! We had’t discussed drugs at this point, mainly her left knee sciatica and excessive tiredness at night! May have wrote morphine early due the unsuitable chair and table i was rigidly propped up on…. Pain! No alternatives available or offered – illegal.

    The meeting holder spent 5 minutes (more throughout) describing her problems, whilst stating throughout when i gave exemplars that we were running short of time. Its your’e agenda……

    THE MEETING HOLDER switched all the lights off in the massive meeting room apart from 2 wall mounted bare filament candle bulbs behind me to the left. It was DARK. If the meeting table had been the correct height then it was about 30 Lux and should be 300 Lux. she stated it was so she could use the laptop. She sat opposite left across 45 degree with a backlit gloss coated lcd laptop, she wore bi focal gloss coated spectacles, the only thing i could see in the whole room was the reflection of the computer screen content (not in detail just windows opening, the pages etc) and her upper body. By virtue of the bare bulb forty five degree behind and above my left shoulder meant every time i addressed her i got a ghosting bulb filament in my peripheral vision which then continued to be ghosted wherever i looked. However the meeting layout given the room meant i shadowed my own paperwork. I told her i can’t use glasses or read for long looking down before the ‘Darkness’ was imposed. She wrote I can ware glasses!! By virtue of the light level even looking down quickly I couldn’t / read a single word…….! As a former meeting holder , I had my notes on a3 , its the way to record against an agenda (assessment form – theirs) and still be active within a meeting.

    To conduct this meeting for 65 mins in the dark with someone ‘known” to suffer sensory deprivation (or anyone!) is illegal and in any other sphere (Police, courts, witness, health, information extraction etc etc) is interrogation or ‘TORTURE’……. wait till i add what was said to what has been written! Classic torture scenes always have a bare bulb…. 🙂 Capita stated they have been trained…….

    Its been reported to MP, AM, DWP, Police, Capita….. nothing thus far……..

    to be cont…..

    (sorry ifs not your thing, voice software to Facebook easier = public domain, i’m happy to be transparent and professional enough to tell the truth, but the voice software understands Black Country i.e. so tell it like it is……)