The body of a disabled man was discovered by police officers in his derelict home six months after his benefits were cut off by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), a report has revealed.
In circumstances similar to those of other claimants whose deaths have been linked to DWP failings over the last decade, his benefits had been removed following unsuccessful attempts to contact him after he failed to turn up for a jobcentre appointment.
He was last seen alive by DWP staff at a jobcentre.
An independent review into his death, which also examined the failings of other public bodies that had dealings with him, criticised the failure of DWP and other agencies to investigate why he had not kept appointments.
The review* into the death of the man, known only as E, was carried out on behalf of Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Adults Board (TWSAB)** and was obtained by Disability News Service (DNS) following a freedom of information request.
The circumstances of the man’s death have not previously been reported, DNS understands.
E died sometime between October 2016 and early 2017, at the age of 43, but the safeguarding adults review was not ratified by the board until September 2019 and a short summary of the report was published quietly in February 2020.
The review said that both DWP and local mental health services had followed their policies on dealing with service-users who do not attend meetings, but various agencies failed to exercise any “professional curiosity” into what had happened to E.
Had they done so, “further investigations may have occurred”.
The review found that E’s failure to attend appointments or respond to letters and phone calls was not considered or responded to “appropriately”.
The board called for DWP and other agencies to review their “do not attend” policies and procedures “to ensure they are proportionate and fit for purpose”.
DWP has this week declined to answer questions about the case because of “the anonymity of the individual concerned”.
But its failure to show “professional curiosity” when a claimant with a history of mental distress does not attend a meeting in connection with their benefits has echoes of the death of Errol Graham.
He also had his benefits stopped after failing to attend a meeting and not responding to subsequent visits and communication from DWP.
Errol Graham starved to death after DWP stopped his employment and support allowance in October 2017, leaving him without any income.
E’s benefits were halted about a year earlier, in October 2016, but it is not clear from the safeguarding review what state his finances were in at this stage, although he is believed to have lost his entitlement to personal independence payment (PIP).
He had also been desperate enough to need a “short term benefit advance” from DWP on 18 July, just three months before his jobseeker’s allowance was cut off for the last time.
As with Errol Graham, it is possible that E was left with no money and starved to death, or that he took his own life, although the review concludes that he “most probably died of natural causes”.
E, who was extremely socially isolated by the time of his death, had originally trained as a welder and worked in local factories.
He had a criminal record for minor offences, and a history of depression, anxiety, alcohol abuse, and possibly epilepsy.
He had been a long-term claimant of incapacity benefit by the time he was imprisoned for a few months in 2008. On his release in March 2009, he began receiving the new ESA.
DWP records showed his house had been set alight and the door broken, that he was on a waiting-list for help with his alcohol dependency, and that he experienced paranoia, depression and suicidal thoughts.
In August 2012, he was found fit for work, but his GP disagreed with the decision and wanted to refer him to mental health services.
It is not clear what happened with his benefits over the next four years, but in 2016 he was signed off as unfit for work with a diagnosis of “alcohol problem drinking”.
Over the next few months, he made a series of calls to police about break-ins at his house, including one he later admitted was a hoax.
After his ESA claim was stopped in March 2016, his GP gave him another fit note because of his alcoholism.
Two days later, E met with a social worker and spoke about his depression, delusions and paranoid thoughts, and how his PIP had been removed.
After visiting E’s house, the social worker described it as “quite the worst I’ve ever seen, glass everywhere”, said it was below acceptable human standards, and concluded that E lacked the ability to maintain his personal hygiene or his property.
The social worker accompanied E to the jobcentre on 4 April so he could apply for PIP and jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).
In June and early July, E made further calls to police about attempted break-ins and criminal damage to his house.
On 16 June, he was discharged from mental health services after failing to attend three appointments, and eight days later his JSA claim was closed when he failed to attend a jobcentre interview.
He received an advance payment from DWP the following month and was last seen alive on 22 September 2016 at Telford jobcentre.
He was so unwell that the appointment was re-arranged for 6 October, but he did not attend that meeting and his claim was cancelled by DWP after failed attempts to contact him.
Concerns about the state of his house eventually caused the council and the local drug and alcohol recovery service to attempt to contact E in early 2017, but he did not respond to letters or answer the door.
On 19 April 2017, police were called to E’s house by a neighbour after two young people had entered his garden to retrieve their ball and discovered a dead body inside the house, lying next to the bed in his bedroom.
An inquest produced an open verdict because of the length of time between E’s death and the discovery of his body, and the safeguarding adults review concluded that it was “reasonable to assume that E’s death was not directly predictable or, therefore, preventable”.
The report was critical of Telford and Wrekin council’s adult social care department for failing to assess E under the Care Act and provide him with appropriate support, and of agencies that failed to recognise signs of possible self-neglect.
It concluded: “Underlying all the above, is a lack of ‘professional curiosity’ on the behalf of the professionals who came or could have come in contact with E; this is perhaps exemplified by the numerous attempts to contact him in 2017 when he was already dead and his property was continuing to deteriorate but the decision was to visit and follow-up unsuccessfully visits with letters to a boarded up house and a man who had a history of not responding to letters.”
DNS asked DWP this week what action it took in response to the safeguarding adults review, including whether it reviewed its “do not attend” policies, how this related to any changes made to its policies after the death of Errol Graham, and whether it carried out an internal process review into E’s death.
But a DWP spokesperson said: “This is clearly a sad case and our sincere condolences are with this individual’s family.
“Due to the anonymity of the individual concerned we cannot comment on the case directly.”
*Only an executive summary of the report has been published online
**Now known as Telford and Wrekin Safeguarding Partnership
Picture: A jobcentre. Not the one visited by E
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