Tribunal rules DWP must release information from secret benefit deaths reviews


Disability News Service (DNS) has won its appeal against the Department for Work and Pensions’ refusal to publish information from 49 secret reviews it conducted into the deaths of benefit claimants.

The decision of the information rights tribunal to allow the DNS appeal means the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) should now be forced to hand over all of the information from the 49 “peer reviews” that does not directly relate to the people who died.

DWP has been given five weeks to agree with DNS which information it will release from the reviews, 22 of which took place in 2012-13, 16 in 2013-14, and 11 in 2014-15.

The information it releases will not include details of the circumstances of each death or even the summaries of the findings in each case, but DWP is now required to release most of the recommendations that were made by the authors of the reviews.

This should allow disabled campaigners to hold DWP to account over whether it has implemented changes to its procedures to avoid such deaths happening again.

The information DWP eventually releases should also provide a picture of the policies and procedures that were found to be flawed by its own internal reviews, and which have contributed to claimants’ deaths.

In its decision, the first-tier tribunal allowed the DNS appeal against the DWP’s refusal to release any information from the peer reviews, and the decision of the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) last September to uphold DWP’s refusal.

Tribunal judge Andrew Bartlett QC, who led the three-person tribunal panel, said in the ruling: “We express the hope that DWP will revisit Mr Pring’s* information request in the light of our decision to allow the appeal and set aside the [information commissioner’s]decision notice and, under the oversight of the commissioner, disclose what should have been disclosed in answer to his request.”

The panel ruled that the information commissioner had made an error in law by agreeing with DWP that it was prevented from releasing the information by section 123 of the Social Security Administration Act 1992.

Section 123 states that a civil servant is guilty of a criminal offence by disclosing “without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of his employment and which relates to a particular person”.

But the tribunal panel agreed with the submissions made by barrister Elizabeth Kelsey, of Monckton Chambers, who was acting pro bono for DNS, that DWP had interpreted the phrase “relates to a particular person” too widely.

Bartlett concluded: “DWP, because of its interpretation of section 123, regarded the whole of the reviews as prohibited from disclosure. We have arrived at a different construction of section 123.

“On examination of the reviews, it is plain that there is material in them which does not relate to particular persons in the sense that the content of the information is about those persons.”

DNS has been trying since August 2014 to obtain information contained in the 49 peer reviews, to find out what actions ministers have taken following deaths linked to the withdrawal or non-payment of benefits such as employment and support allowance and to the discredited work capability assessment.

DWP first insisted that it held no information about such deaths, but later admitted that it carried out internal reviews into some deaths and serious and complex benefit-related cases, and that it had conducted 49 reviews of deaths between February 2012 and the autumn of 2014.

DNS appealed to the information commissioner after DWP refused to release any of the information from the peer reviews, but was forced to appeal to the information rights tribunal when the commissioner ruled in favour of DWP.

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We have received the tribunal’s decision and are considering the judgement.”

An ICO spokeswoman said: “The commissioner is reviewing the tribunal’s decision and can make no further comment at this stage.”

*John Pring, editor of DNS

  • User Ratings (23 Votes)
  • Bill Scott

    Brilliant work John. Disabled people owe you a lot.

    • Thanks, Bill, very kind, but all the heavy lifting was done by the brilliant Elizabeth Kelsey, of Monckton Chambers. She made sure DWP had nowhere left to hide…

  • EDSer

    Well done, your perseverance paid off. Will be very interesting to see what’s in these reviews.

  • carol Busby

    brilliant news thank you the country need more people like yourself, England would be a nicer place

  • Mandy Moose

    Fantastic news: well done.

    There is a very real safety issue here. If I have a relative with a mental health condition that prevents them from working, they should get a fair medical assessment and an award of benefit to cover them financially during the period of ill-health. They should be entitled and qualify for this support.

    If the DWP processes are harmful enough that it puts my relative at an increased risk of suicide, then I am not going to risk them applying for social security, even if that means my family being pushed into financial hardship because we would have to support them ourselves. Even though they should be awarded benefit.

    Aside from the cases themselves and this release of information that DNS has thankfully achieved, I would like to know something else. What has the DWP done in response to any risk for claimants during the time it has been sitting on this information? If they have changed nothing during this time, then it’s a Mid Staffs type situation where they have knowingly caused harm, just because the information wasn’t in the public domain.

    I have been an appointee for someone who was refused benefit because ‘they hadn’t tried to kill themselves or self-harmed’. I couldn’t get this through the DWP ‘complaints’, the only place I could get it ‘acknowledged’ in any way was through the Select Committee, where the experience is published as evidence. I am so very pleased that you have got further than I have. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Mandy. On the Mid Staffs issue, that’s an excellent point, and myself and others are hoping there will be a criminal investigation. Here’s a story from last month, which hopefully will be updated on Thursday:

      • Mandy Moose

        Thanks John.

        I think there are direct parallels with Mid Staffs: unfortunately it seems to have been viewed as a management how-to guide, rather than the real lesson which is that the truth can only be suppressed for so long. Harm unacknowledged still exists.

        As a healthy, well person acting as an appointee to be told that someone isn’t ill because they haven’t tried to kill themselves/self-harm, I felt a massive responsibility to do something about it. For a vulnerable person to potentially be told this is clearly dangerous. In fact, I rang back several times to be told the same thing by different people, so it didn’t seem like operator error. It seemed unremarkable. Even after winning at tribunal, I tried to raise this with them and other bodies: you’ll know that correspondence to the DWP doesn’t get opened. The furthest I got a year later was to write to all the Select Committee members, who I’m pleased to say, all acknowledged that they’d read it. It’s published on their site as evidence for the benefit delivery inquiry.

        That was the best I could do, and I still feel guilty.