Ministers are refusing to release details of two reports into the deaths of benefit claimants in which coroners warned that more disabled people could die if the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) failed to take urgent action.
DWP has admitted that the two prevention of future deaths (PFD) reports exist, but it is refusing to provide any further details, including what action it took after receiving them.
Both reports were written by coroners in the last seven years – and before November 2019 – and were each sent to DWP following inquests into the deaths of benefit claimants, one of which was a suicide.
There is so far no other information on when they were written, the circumstances of the deaths, or the recommendations made by the two coroners.
Without that information, it is impossible to check if DWP made the changes the coroners recommended.
The chief coroner of England and Wales, Judge Mark Lucraft, who receives all PFD reports from coroners and publishes them on the official website of the judiciary, was this week unable to explain why he had not published the two missing documents.
PFD reports are written by coroners who believe – at the end of an inquest – that an individual or organisation should take urgent action to prevent similar deaths happening in the future.
It was previously thought that – since 2013 – only one PFD report had been sent to DWP by a coroner raising concerns about links between its actions and the death of a benefit claimant.
But a report by the National Audit Office (NAO) last month into information held by DWP on “deaths by suicide of benefit claimants” revealed that the department told the spending watchdog that it had received four PFD reports on claimant deaths since 2013.
DNS submitted a freedom of information request, asking DWP for copies of those four reports.
DWP has now replied, providing links to the Michael O’Sullivan document and one other PFD report (see separate story), which followed the death of Alexander Boamah in north-west London in January 2019.
DWP said the other two reports “have not been published by the coroner”* and so it would not release them because it “treats personal information about deceased persons with a strict duty of confidentiality”.
The freedom of information response adds: “We will only disclose personal information about a deceased person with the signed written consent of the administrator or executor of the deceased person’s will or where ordered to disclose by a court.”
A spokesperson for the chief coroner said that he “simply publishes the reports that he is sent by coroners” and “doesn’t keep a separate log of all the details that are in the report so that is why it is difficult for his office to track where these reports are”.
NAO told DNS this week that its team had seen only the summaries of the four PFD reports, and discussed them in November and December last year.
*This was probably a DWP error, as PFDs are published by the chief coroner of England and Wales and not the individual coroner who has written the report
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