The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is blocking the release of a paper that details the impact of its own errors on disabled people whose deaths are likely to be linked to its failings and policy decisions.
The paper was mentioned during a meeting of its serious case panel last October, which was attended by some of the department’s most senior executives.
The panel was set up to examine the deaths of claimants that have been linked to DWP’s actions.
Last month, Disability News Service (DNS) revealed how extracts from secret internal process reviews completed by DWP between September 2020 and November 2022 showed how a catalogue of errors made by the department were still being linked to the deaths of claimants.
Some of these deaths will have been examined by the serious case panel, and are likely to have been discussed in the paper DWP is now refusing to release on “the impact of errors on vulnerable customers”.
Minutes of the panel’s meeting on 12 October 2022 show that two of the “key areas of concern” detailed in the paper were around the failure of DWP staff “to call customers back” and the impact of “delays or errors” when claimants change addresses.
DNS had submitted a freedom of information request to DWP to ask it to release the paper, but the department has decided that doing so is not sufficiently in the public interest.
As with other documents it has blocked from release under freedom of information laws, DWP is suggesting that allowing the contents of the paper to be read by the public would “inhibit” the “free and frank exchange of views” between ministers and DWP civil servants and would likely “prejudice the effective conduct of public affairs”.
It concludes: “On balance, we are satisfied that the public interest in maintaining the exemption outweighs the public interest in disclosure.”
DNS is appealing the decision.
It is only the latest of many sensitive – and potentially embarrassing – documents that DWP has tried to prevent being released under the Freedom of Information Act.
Last month, DNS reported how the department was refusing to release a document that would show how its controversial plans to scrap the work capability assessment would impact disabled people.
It is still refusing to publish a report into the effectiveness of its support for “vulnerable” claimants of universal credit, more than three-and-a-half years after it was presented to its universal credit programme board.
And it had to be forced by the information commissioner to publish a report that showed how benefit sanctions slow down progress into work and are likely to force claimants to take lower-paying jobs.
DWP has been insisting for years that there are no systemic flaws in the social security system that can be linked to the deaths of disabled people claiming benefits.
The paper submitted to the serious case panel is likely to include fresh evidence of such systemic flaws.
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