The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has sent 80 pages of emails that have been almost entirely blacked out to Disability News Service (DNS), in a bid to avoid complying with its legal duty to release information about DNS editor John Pring.
The 80 pages of redacted information were posted to Pring’s previous address after DWP was told by information rights legal experts at solicitors Mishcon de Reya that its ongoing refusal to release the data was a “serious contravention” of its legal obligations.
Pring has been trying for two years to obtain details of emails written about him by DWP’s communications department.
And although the Information Commissioner’s Office has already agreed that DWP’s failure to provide the information is a clear breach of data protection laws, it has repeatedly refused to release the emails.
Now, in its latest attempt to hide the content of emails that mentioned Pring and were sent and received by the DWP press office during 2019, the department’s right of access team has handed over 80 pages of redacted emails.
The content of the emails is almost completely blacked out, other than the occasional mention of Pring’s name and a small number of random words.
But the redacted pages do reveal the dates on which the emails were sent, which provide clues as to the subject of the discussions within the DWP press office.
One was sent shortly before DWP responded to a lengthy investigation by DNS into deaths of disabled benefit claimants that had been linked to the work capability assessment.
The timing of another, in June 2019, suggests it was discussing a DNS enquiry about a meeting between one of DWP’s director generals and Joy Dove, whose daughter Jodey Whiting had her out-of-work disability benefits stopped for missing a work capability assessment, and took her own life just 15 days later.
Several of the redacted emails appear to be discussing DNS requests relating to the personal independence payment assessment system.
The timing of another suggests it relates to the safeguarding failures of DWP and its private sector contractors, while another email is likely to relate to DWP’s decision to set up a new serious case panel to examine deaths of claimants linked to the department’s failures.
One email, on 25 February 2019, probably discusses a news story that DNS published later that week, which reported how the proportion of DWP staff who said they had been victims of disability discrimination at work in the previous 12 months had risen by about 50 per cent in just four years.
Mishcon de Reya, which is acting pro bono for DNS, has this week written again to DWP to warn the department that the redacted information it provided “utterly fails” to comply with its legal obligations under the General Data Protection Regulation.
The Mishcon letter adds: “The upshot of your… response to our client’s request is that he remains completely lacking full awareness of what personal data you process about him, and unable to verify the lawfulness of the processing.”
Mishcon says this means that DWP continues to be in “serious infringement” of its GDPR obligations.
In a covering letter accompanying the redacted emails, a DWP manager said she had enclosed “all of the documents that DWP Press Office holds for this period.
“Within these documents, the only information we hold is your name and email address.”
She said: “When you originally made your request, we determined that we did not consider the information that we held to be your personal information as defined by the Information Commissioner in their guidance of ‘What is Personal Data’, hence our response that the information was not held.
“However, in order to be helpful, we have included all the information we have identified as containing your name and email address.
“The email is a full and final response to your right of access request.”
A DWP spokesperson said yesterday (Wednesday): “The department will not be adding anything further.”
Pictured: One of the redacted pages sent to John Pring by DWP
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