The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted repeatedly breaching the Equality Act, after a disabled man was left needing hospital treatment three times for suicidal thoughts caused by months of failures by universal credit advisers and jobcentres.
A legal document describes how George*, from east London, has been failed on scores of occasions by DWP staff working on its helplines and in its jobcentres.
DWP has now admitted discriminating against him on numerous occasions.
George said he believed thousands of other disabled people were potentially facing similar treatment, and that DWP appeared to be refusing to take any action to make the universal credit system safer, more accessible and less distressing for others.
It is the latest case to be shared with Disability News Service that raises serious concerns about flaws within universal credit, and in particular its inflexibility, the anxiety caused to claimants with a history of mental distress, the lack of support for claimants in vulnerable situations, and the hostility and safeguarding failures of jobcentres and helpline staff.
For more than two years, George and his carers begged DWP staff to communicate with him by phone, rather than through his online universal credit journal.
But DWP staff failed to put markers on his universal credit account to alert colleagues that he was a “vulnerable claimant” and that he needed reasonable adjustments to be made for him, after he registered a new claim in February 2020.
When he lodged his claim, he was told – wrongly – that he could only make a claim digitally, rather than by telephone.
He was only able to submit the online claim with the help of a Citizens Advice Bureau.
On numerous occasions over the following months, his requests for support were ignored or refused.
He made repeated attempts to complain about the discriminatory way he was being treated, but many of these complaints were never investigated.
DWP has now admitted liability in a county court discrimination case, and although George is seeking up to £25,000 in damages, the department is disputing the amount it should pay in compensation for its failures and the impact they have had on him.
George fears that, despite his legal victory, DWP will continue to treat other disabled people the same way.
The legal document that describes his “particulars of claim” shows how he made DWP aware from the beginning of his new claim for universal credit of his need for support.
Because of a neurological impairment, he experiences regular seizures, memory problems and “brain fog”, and has significant care needs, needing assistance with washing, dressing, eating, reading, writing, and completing paperwork.
But DWP took more than a year to put the reasonable adjustments in place that should have meant all communications with him about universal credit would be carried out by phone.
It also promised that monthly statements would be posted to him, and that his local jobcentre would call him about any actions he needed to take and complete his responses on his online journal on his behalf.
The same day this agreement was reached, a universal credit adviser posted a message and letter on his online journal, according to the particulars of claim.
Helpline and jobcentre staff continued to breach the agreement over the next year.
On at least two occasions he was given a new case manager, who then refused to accept the reasonable adjustments that had previously been agreed.
The distress caused by his treatment has led to him needing emergency treatment for suicidal thoughts on three occasions.
On numerous occasions, he has dictated a complaint over the telephone, only for DWP to fail to investigate it.
Disability News Service has counted more than 40 times over two years in which a promise made by DWP staff was then broken, often many times over, according to George’s particulars of claim.
Despite DWP finally agreeing to move him across to a telephone claim – as a result of his legal action – he said he was still being denied the reasonable adjustments he needs, and is still being asked to respond online.
George said he was “extremely concerned” by DWP’s actions.
He said: “It just shows they have not learned their lessons.
“They have conceded my case, but that doesn’t change anything for other people.
“If they are admitting they did this to me, why aren’t they looking at the system as a whole?
“I think this is happening to potentially thousands of other disabled people.
“I am quite a fighter so I have fought this in the courts, but other people will not have that fight.
“I was hoping they would change their ways.
“It appears they have conceded my case, but does that change the system overall for other people? No.
“There doesn’t seem to be any kind of remorse or action being taken to change the situation generally.
“What’s it going to take for them to make those changes?”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We cannot comment on active legal proceedings.”
*He has asked for his surname not to be used
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