The mother of a disabled woman who killed herself after her benefits were wrongly stopped has asked the high court to order a second inquest into her death.
Joy Dove wants to see the “heartless and cruel” actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which she believes caused her daughter’s death, to be thoroughly investigated.
The first inquest into the death of Jodey Whiting, which took place in May 2017, lasted just 37 minutes.
The coroner had turned down Dove’s request to examine the actions of DWP.
Now she wants the high court to quash the results of that first inquest and order a second one by a different coroner.
Whiting (pictured), a mother-of-nine and grandmother from Stockton-on-Tees, took her own life in February 2017, 15 days after she had her employment and support allowance (ESA) mistakenly stopped for missing a work capability assessment (WCA).
Dove’s legal team have gathered detailed evidence that they believe shows that DWP ignored the risks involved in terminating Whiting’s benefits.
Four months before she died, Whiting had told the department: “I have suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work.”
She requested a home assessment, but that was turned down, and she then failed to open a letter asking her to attend the face-to-face assessment, and so missed the WCA.
She had been ill with pneumonia and receiving hospital treatment for a cyst on the brain and had been taking painkillers which affected her ability to cope with correspondence, after years of significant physical and mental health conditions.
Six weeks after her death, DWP overturned the decision to terminate her ESA.
The Independent Case Examiner concluded last year that DWP was guilty of “multiple” and “significant” failings in handling her case, and that it had failed five times to follow its own safeguarding rules in the weeks leading to her suicide.
Dove has told the high court that the first inquest failed to investigate the role that DWP played in her daughter’s death.
She said: “I believe my Jodey would still be here today if it had not been for the way she was treated by the DWP.
“It was heartless and cruel and a breach of their own rules to treat Jodey in the way they did.
“They knew she was vulnerable, but they took no notice of her pleas for a home visit for a WCA and then just cut off her ESA. It was too much for her to bear.
“I think they must be made to answer for their actions towards my daughter.”
Dove’s legal team have summed up the case against DWP, in documents supporting the high court application.
They say: “The DWP had, in effect, terminated the benefits of a housebound woman with severe physical and mental health conditions, who had been in receipt of benefits since 2006, due to one missed appointment (for which Ms Whiting had provided a clear and cogent explanation), in circumstances where the DWP had not arranged a home visit to Ms Whiting, had not telephoned Ms Whiting, had not arranged a safeguarding visit to Ms Whiting, had not sought up to date information on her health and the impact of terminating benefits on her, and had not given any consideration to Ms Whiting’s known mental health conditions – including depression – before terminating her benefits.”
Barrister Jesse Nicholls, of Doughty Street Chambers, who is representing Dove, told the high court that DWP’s “substantial and highly concerning” failings “require public exposure to ensure accountability and lesson learning in order to prevent future such deaths”.
Documents submitted by Dove’s legal team include evidence uncovered by Disability News Service that links DWP’s actions to the deaths of other disabled claimants, including Stephen Carré and Michael O’Sullivan.
Merry Varney, a partner at Leigh Day, solicitors for Jodey Whiting’s family, said there needed to be a second inquest so that the family’s concerns about DWP’s failings “can be fully and fearlessly investigated in a public forum, in a manner in which they can participate”.
She said: “Since the first inquest, Jodey’s family have learned how the DWP did have safeguards in place yet failed to implement these, despite Jodey’s mental and physical ill health and how her request for a home visit was simply ignored.
“It is hoped that both for Jodey’s family and other individuals vulnerable to similar treatment by the DWP that the high court will agree it is necessary in the interests of justice and on human rights grounds for the first narrow inquest to be quashed and a second inquest take place to consider whether Jodey’s death was caused or contributed to by the DWP.”
Asked for its response, a DWP spokesperson said: “Our condolences are with Jodey’s family.
“It would not be appropriate for me to comment further as this is now a matter for the high court.”