The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is continuing to send an access consultant inaccessible letters about his disability benefits, despite the high court ruling that this was unlawful discrimination.
Dr Yusuf Ali Osman, who is blind, had brought a judicial review case against DWP for failing to provide him with important information about his benefits in ways he could access, in breach of its duties under the Equality Act.
The court has now found that DWP discriminated against Osman (pictured) and other blind and visually-impaired people who had asked for employment and support allowance (ESA) and personal independence payment (PIP) correspondence in accessible formats.
It found that DWP failed to make reasonable adjustments to its policy of sending them printed and other inaccessible or delayed letters.
DWP has been engaged in similar legal battles over its failure to make its communications process accessible to blind and visually-impaired people for nearly a decade.
But despite the court case and an agreement to pay him £7,000 compensation, Osman, from Croydon, says DWP is still communicating with him in ways he cannot access, and he warned that he could be forced to take further legal action against the department.
He said: “The DWP has continued to send me important correspondence about my benefits that I am unable to read, or that has been unreasonably delayed, even after I issued this claim.
“The DWP clearly does not have a system that allows them to consistently identify, record and share disabled people’s communication preferences which means we keep receiving inaccessible or unreasonably delayed correspondence.
“The DWP needs to take more radical steps, such as new IT systems, to guarantee it will improve the way it communicates with blind and visually impaired people.
“I can only hope that they improve their practices in future or I may be forced to take further action.”
He issued his legal claim last June, but among the correspondence he has received from DWP since then are a printed letter about a jobcentre appointment that he was sent in February, and a letter dated 16 December 2022 – in braille – that did not arrive until 24 March.
Osman can access letters in particular electronic formats such as text in an email, an accessible PDF or Word attachment to an email, or in braille.
But despite repeated requests, DWP continued to send him crucial information about his ESA and PIP in printed letters or as scanned inaccessible PDFs attached to emails, which cannot be read by his screen-reading software.
And when he did receive something in braille, it was often weeks late, so he risked failing to meet DWP’s own deadlines.
Between 2020 and March 2023, he has received 21 letters which were either inaccessible or significantly delayed, compared with just two letters that were accessible and arrived on time.
Among the critical information he receives from DWP is correspondence about rules on how much he is allowed to work as an access consultant, as well as annual updates on his PIP and ESA claims.
DWP has now agreed to apologise and has altered some of its procedures, and promised that further changes are being “implemented, developed, or considered”.
Osman will be updated in six and 12 months, and he will be asked to test changes to DWP’s PIP computer system and proposed DWP-wide changes.
He will also be paid £7,000 compensation and his legal costs.
But his solicitor, Kate Egerton, from Leigh Day, said: “Equality legislation is clear that the DWP should communicate with disabled people in a manner that enables them to access important information about their benefits on an equal basis to everyone else.
“This judicial review has established that the DWP was acting unlawfully in the way it communicates with blind and partially-sighted benefits claimants.
“We remain unconvinced that the steps the DWP has taken since this claim was started are sufficient to meet its legal obligations and have reserved the right to bring this matter back to court in future if matters do not improve.”
DWP declined to explain why Osman was continuing to receive inaccessible and delayed letters about his benefits, and why it was still facing such concerns years after the problems were first raised.
But a DWP spokesperson said: “We are sorry for falling short in meeting our accessibility requirements in this instance.
“We have already made changes to improve this, and will continue to work with our disabled customers to offer them the best possible service.”
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