The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing fresh allegations of negligence – potentially criminal – after admitting that it keeps no records of how many of the complaints it receives involve the death of a claimant of disability benefits.
The admission came in response to a freedom of information request from Disability News Service (DNS), which arrived just 24 hours before the launch of a new parliamentary petition* calling for an independent inquiry into deaths linked to DWP failings.
It adds to mounting evidence that DWP is institutionally disablist and not fit for purpose and will fuel calls for urgent changes to its policies and administration of benefits to ensure it makes the safety of all claimants a priority, as demanded by the petition.
DNS had asked in the freedom of information request how many of the complaints submitted to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE) about DWP involved a claimant of a disability-related benefit who had died before that complaint was submitted.
The request followed an ICE report into the death of Jodey Whiting, who had a long history of mental distress and took her own life 15 days after her disability benefits were stopped for missing a work capability assessment when she was seriously ill.
The ICE report concluded that DWP had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading up to her death, and that it had been guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case.
ICE reviews complaints about government departments that deal with benefits, work and financial support, but can only investigate concerns after that department has delivered its own “final response” to a complaint.
Responding to the freedom of information request, DWP said that ICE did not record “the category of information you have requested” because the department itself “uses high level corporate complaint categories to record customer complaints” and these do not include whether a claimant has died.
The only categories DWP offers are: “DWP staff don’t treat me with respect”; “you take too long”; “you’ve got it wrong”; “you haven’t given me the information that suits my needs”; “I can’t access the system”; and “DWP policy is unfair”.
Previous freedom of information admissions by DWP have shown that it has carried out scores of secret peer reviews (later renamed internal process reviews) into the deaths of benefit claimants.
And government-funded research concluded three years ago that DWP’s programme to reassess people on incapacity benefit through the work capability assessment was linked to 590 suicides in just three years.
DWP had failed to comment by noon today (Thursday).
DNS had asked whether DWP agreed that it was seriously negligent to fail to analyse how many complaints it was receiving in which a claimant had died, particularly those linked to the non-payment or withdrawal of vital benefits.
DNS had also asked how DWP would be able to respond to serious flaws in the system that were leading to loss of life if it did not know how many such complaints were being received about various aspects of its service.
And DNS asked whether Joanna Wallace, the independent case examiner, had any concerns about the failure to record this category of information.
*If you sign the petition, please note that you will need to confirm your signature by clicking on an email you will be sent automatically by the House of Commons petitions committee
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