A severely distressed disabled man who repeatedly warned Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) staff that his life was at risk says they refused to take action to protect him, breaching their own guidance on suicidal benefit claimants.
Finn Jaradd says it was only after he spent weeks sending emails and phone messages to junior staff and management that a DWP manager finally followed the department’s six-point plan and passed on concerns to the police, ambulance service and the local mental health trust.
DWP said this morning (Thursday) that it was “urgently” looking into the case.
The six-point plan is supposed to guarantee that staff know how to deal with statements by customers that they intend to self-harm or take their own lives.
But Jaradd says DWP staff failed to follow the guidance despite a string of emails and phone messages he sent about his benefit claim, in which he warned that the department’s actions were causing him severe mental distress and were “killing” him.
It follows years of evidence of DWP’s failure to safeguard disabled people who come into contact with its services, and countless links between the department and the deaths of disabled benefit claimants.
Almost exactly 18 months ago, Disability News Service (DNS) reported that DWP staff had had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants stated that they intended to self-harm or take their own lives, following secret reviews into as many as six suicides linked to the benefit system.
Jaradd, from Manchester, had provided DWP with detailed evidence of his mental distress and says he told several members of staff in its complaints department, a benefits service centre, and through a DWP correspondence address, that the department’s actions were putting his life in danger.
The alleged failings came less than a month after DWP’s own independent case examiner (ICE) upheld a series of complaints Jaradd had lodged about the way he had been dealt with by DWP on a claim he made for universal credit (UC) in September 2019, and a later request for a work capability assessment.
The ICE investigation had begun in March 2021, after he complained that DWP was failing to communicate clearly with him, was ignoring questions he asked through his online UC journal, even though he was “begging for help”, and that its actions were negatively affecting his mental health.
He also told ICE that DWP staff had discriminated against him by refusing to send him text messages each time he was sent a message through the journal, and that he had been left “utterly disgusted” and “distressed” by his treatment
At one point, he said this week, when he asked for help through his journal, a DWP staff member told him to just Google the mental health charity Mind.
Last month, ICE concluded that DWP had provided him with “inaccurate and conflicting information” on how to report health conditions and about his UC journal; failed to “appropriately investigate and respond” to complaints and questions he raised through his journal; and failed to agree to alert him by text message every time a message was left on his journal.
ICE told him that this failure to “routinely” provide him with text notifications “will have heightened your mental health conditions”, but that DWP had “acknowledged and apologised for all the service failures identified”.
DWP had paid him £150 compensation for the “distress and inconvenience” he had endured.
The ICE report described how Jaradd’s UC claim was eventually closed in August last year, after he approached DWP to admit that he had made a “huge error”, after realising that the savings limit was actually £16,000 when he had thought it was £160,000.
He told DWP he had savings well above the £16,000 limit. He says this was accepted by DWP as a simple error, and was not investigated.
In April this year, despite the ICE investigation, Jaradd says that DWP’s safeguarding failings re-emerged.
He had spent six weeks working at a restaurant last autumn, but he had to leave the job because he was so unwell, having made three attempts at taking his own life and walking out of work three times in the middle of a shift because of his mental distress.
His mental health was so poor that he forgot to inform DWP about the brief period in work.
DNS has seen a letter sent by Jaradd’s line manager at the restaurant chain, in which she describes how she was “very aware of his declining mental health” and “genuinely feared for his safety and wellbeing through-out his employment”.
When DWP found out about these few weeks of work in April this year, he apologised and told them he had been “struggling to keep myself alive, let alone deal with day-to-day admin”.
He says the department responded by sending him “horrifically threatening” letters that warned him it was launching an investigation.
Since April, he says he has repeatedly warned DWP of the significant impact the investigation was having on his mental health, and has begged for updates on his case, twice telling them: “You will only sit up and take notice once I am dead.”
He says he emailed five different people and departments, wrote a letter and called at least 20 times, but DWP refused to update him, despite him explaining “in great detail” each time “how much this was affecting me and destroying me”.
He says he also emailed DWP a 285-page psychiatric report, and information from his doctor, which showed how he had tried to take his own life three times the previous autumn and about leaving work three times in mid-shift.
He says he repeatedly told DWP that he was worried for his own safety and that its actions were making him unwell, that he was “not coping” and that he could “not guarantee being able to stay alive for the next 24 hours”.
But he says not one of the DWP staff or departments offered any support or advice for five weeks, or took any safeguarding action, despite knowing about his significant mental distress and history of suicide attempts.
Instead, he says, the department sent him two letters – one early last month and another this week – warning him that he could be prosecuted.
Last week, in growing despair, he says he contacted DWP to warn yet again that he feared for his own safety because of its failure to respond to his emails and phone calls about the investigation.
On Friday 27 May, he hand-delivered a letter to his local jobcentre, asking them to ring him urgently and to leave a voicemail if he did not answer so that he could call back.
Three days later, after weeks of ignoring his warnings about his mental distress, he says DWP finally took safeguarding action and alerted Greater Manchester Police, which sent an officer to check on his welfare, as well as alerting the local ambulance service, and the mental health crisis team.
Jaradd says this showed DWP was “cherry-picking” when it chose to take action to safeguard claimants.
The same day, he says, a “compliance manager” called him to apologise, and said his colleagues had clearly and repeatedly failed to follow the six-point plan and that DWP had failed him.
DNS has seen an email sent to Jarrad by a DWP work coach team leader on 1 June, which confirms that his complaint about his treatment is being investigated.
Jaradd told DNS that DWP had now put him “through hell” twice and repeatedly failed to follow its own guidelines.
He said: “They are aware that I have had a number of suicide attempts in recent years and how seriously mentally unwell I am.
“I have told them they are killing me, making my life hell, and contributing substantially to my mental illness and disabilities.”
He said it was clear DWP had learned nothing from the ICE investigation and that despite years of investigations into the deaths of other claimants, it was still failing in its duty of care and was not fit for purpose.
He said: “My life is on hold, I’m having night tremors, night sweats and nightmares.
“I can’t focus on anything, I can’t see a future, because I am fearful of how DWP will treat me in the future.”
He added: “My health has been damaged beyond repair solely because of my dealings with DWP, and they have caused irreversible damage to my health.
“I have withdrawn from life, I don’t see or speak to anyone. They have destroyed my life and they do not care.”
A DWP spokesperson said this morning (Thursday): “We are urgently looking into Mr Jaradd’s case.”
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