The sister of a disabled woman whose death was caused by flaws in the benefits system has pledged to fight for a public inquiry into other such deaths, after a government contractor agreed to pay “substantial” compensation for its failings.
Both Capita and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) were closely linked to the death of Philippa Day by evidence that emerged at an inquest into her death in January.
Assistant coroner Gordon Clow highlighted 28 separate “problems” with the administration of the personal independence payment (PIP) system that helped cause the death of the 27-year-old, from Nottingham.
It took Clow more than two hours to read out his conclusions and findings, after a nine-day inquest that uncovered multiple failings by both DWP and Capita in the 11 months that led up to Philippa Day’s death in October 2019.
He had concluded that flaws in the benefits system were “the predominant factor and the only acute factor” that led to her taking her own life.
And he issued what is known as a prevention of future deaths (PFD) report, which calls for action from organisations linked to a death to prevent further such tragedies.
That report was addressed to both DWP and Capita, which carries out PIP assessments on its behalf.
Now Capita has agreed to compensate Philippa Day’s family for its failings, a sum likely to be in six figures.
The compensation from Capita will be used to support Philippa’s six-year-old son.
The terms of the settlement include an agreement to withdraw the family’s legal claims against DWP.
Capita will also meet the family to discuss the changes it has made since her death.
Imogen Day, who is herself disabled, promised her sister that she would fight for justice for her if she died because of her PIP claim.
She told Disability News Service that she would continue that fight, despite the settlement.
She said: “It’s not justice, but it is a measure of accountability, a measure of financial accountability, for the mistakes that were made and the trauma we suffered as a result.
“It is one chapter closed but we have still got more to do.
“Now the settlement is out of the way I can speak far more freely.”
She added: “In 2019, my sister was stolen from me.
“What followed was a difficult inquest full of inappropriate tactics and attempts to conceal wrongdoing.
“The DWP has broken the public’s trust that there is social security that is kind and well-balanced.
“In the years since, I am aware that changes have been implemented at both DWP and Capita, changes that should help prevent another tragic loss.”
But she said there still needed to be accountability for the deaths of many other disabled benefit claimants that have been linked to the actions of DWP and its contractors.
She said: “I will continue to campaign for a full public inquiry into benefit deaths.”
She had earlier said in a public statement: “Our family have always maintained that my sister’s treatment by the Capita, on behalf of the DWP, directly impacted her mental state and in the end is the reason for her death.
“Capita’s wall of bureaucracy, with no consideration for Philippa’s mental state, exacerbated her despair at her debt and poverty.
“She was met with cold, uncaring call operators who would not listen to her cries for help.
“However, we welcome the opportunity to meet with Capita to discuss improvements to their service.
“This settlement will in some measure provide for Philippa’s family and a materially stable upbringing for Philippa’s son, but he has lost his mother, and there is nothing Capita can do to put right the wrong that contributed to Philippa’s death.”
Merry Varney, a partner at solicitors Leigh Day, who has represented the family, said: “Capita has shown acceptance of their failures and a willingness to ensure their mistakes are not repeated.”
But she said there were still “too many examples” of DWP “acting inhumanely to those receiving benefits and a continued resistance by the DWP to transparent investigations into benefit-related deaths”.
She added: “Until the DWP changes its attitude, people like Philippa and her family remain at risk of gross human rights violations, and ‘benefit related deaths’ are just another example of preventable deaths of people with disabilities occurring without any proper investigation or scrutiny.”
Capita had refused by noon today (Thursday) to confirm that it had settled the case.
But a Capita spokesperson said in a statement: “We are very sorry for the mistakes we made in processing Philippa’s personal independence payment claim and the additional stress this caused her.
“In partnership with the DWP, we have considered and reviewed the coroner’s report and we are implementing all the recommendations that are relevant to us.
“Following this incident, we have strengthened our processes and we are working to continuously improve and deliver a professional, efficient and kind service for every PIP applicant we assess.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Our condolences remain with the Day family.”
Picture: Philippa Day, her son, and her sister Imogen (right)
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