The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing an investigation into its refusal to publish ‘secret’ reviews into 49 benefit-related deaths, it has reported today.
The investigation was launched by the Information Commissioners Office following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS).
A number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, including from DNS, demanding that the DWP publish its reviews into benefit-related deaths have been rebuffed by the department.
Officials have since admitted that of the 49 reviews the DWP has carried out so far, 33 included a recommendation to make improvements and 40 were made in response to an apparent suicide.
The DWP says publishing the reviews could represent a breach of section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act; which states that it would be an offence for a DWP employee to, “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.
A complaint from DNS has now sparked an investigation by the information watchdog.
An ICO case officer told DNS:
“The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the DWP is entitled to rely on section 44 as a basis for refusing to provide the information you requested.
“Should it not be a valid refusal of your request the commissioner will also determine what information can be provided within the appropriate cost limit.”
DNS says the investigation is likely to take a number of months. And in the event that investigators rule against the DWP they could still appeal the decision.
If you need help and support please contact the Samaritans on 08457 90 90 90 or visit their website.
Source – Weekly Welfare, 17 Apr 2015
This article was written by Karen McVeigh, for The Guardian on Sunday 14th December 2014
The Department for Work and Pensions has been urged by mental health and disability charities to publish its secret investigations into suicides that may have some link to benefit changes, following revelations that it has carried out internal reviews into 60 such cases.
A Freedom of Information request by the Disability News Service has revealed that the DWP has carried out “60 peer reviews following the death of a customer” since February 2012. A peer review is triggered when suicide or alleged suicide is “associated with a DWP activity”, according to its internal guidance.
Despite growing concern over the way benefits are administered in relation to vulnerable individuals, and amid a number of reports of related deaths, the department told the Guardian it had no plans to publish the reviews.
Disabled People Against the Cuts said that, because of the way the reviews were carried out, the DWP figure was likely to be the “tip of the iceberg”.
Tom Pollard, the policy and campaigns manager at Mind, told the Guardian the figures were a concern. He stressed that suicide was a complex problem but added:
“It would be helpful for organisations to see what things could be going wrong in the benefit system that could lead to these tragic situations.”
Sue Bott, director of policy and services at Disability Rights UK, said DWP reviews should be transparent.
“There have been allegations and anecdotal evidence for a while that the benefits regime has tipped people over the edge. It should be looked into in a transparent way,”
“This is not just about the nature of the decision taken as to whether it was right or wrong. It’s also about the process and there is a lot of concern about the way benefits are administered.”
The DWP’s latest figures show that sanctions to punish disabled ESA claimants had risen by 470% in 18 months, from 1,096 in December 2012 to 5,132 in June 2014.
According to DWP figures released as the result of an FoI request, 62% of adverse ESA sanction decisions in the first three months of 2014 were made against people with mental or behavioural problems (9,851 out of 15,955).
The calls for transparency from the DWP come after a number of reports of the deaths and suicides of vulnerable individuals after adverse benefit decisions.
David Clapson, 59, a former soldier and type-1 diabetic, died in July after his benefit was cut. Clapson had no food in his stomach, £3.44 in the bank and no money on his electricity card, leaving him unable to operate his fridge where he kept insulin.
MPs are to look into his death after a petition written by Gill Thompson, his sister, gathered more than 200,000 signatures.
Thompson, told the Guardian:
“All I’ve ever asked for is lessons to be learned. I can’t bring him back but we should know what is going on. There are certain people who shouldn’t be sanctioned. People with terminal cancer, waiting for heart operations, people with diabetes. Before they sanctioned my brother, they knew his disability. He was waiting to hear from a job, he had been on work placement. He was claiming the bare minimum.”
Christine Norman, a nurse whose disabled sister, Jacqueline Harris, took her own life in November 2013 after her benefits were cut, said:
“It’s too late for my sister. Everything is stacked against you. If you’ve got a great education, if you have great health, you’re OK. But if you haven’t, you have to fight against the odds. The government want you to work. The ones they pick are the ones that are vulnerable and ill.”
An inquest found last month that Harris, 53, of Bristol, who was partially sighted, took her own life after months of constant pain and following a “fit for work” ruling that replaced her incapacity benefit with jobseeker’s allowance. Staff at a jobcentre Harris was told to attend had to call an ambulance after she blacked out in pain.
Disabled People Against Cuts said that, because the DWP’s reviews only relate to suicides or alleged suicides and were triggered by regional managers within the benefit system, the number of deaths was likely to be far higher than the 60 cases that reached review.
Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said:
“The triage for advising whether a peer review is to be carried out is done by regional managers at seven regional centres, who may not have an interest in putting them forward. Also, the guidance for peer review is focused on suicide, which does not cover people like David Clapson.”
She called on the DWP to open a proper investigation into the deaths, and include evidence from medical experts.
“These should be public documents” she said. “They are also only focused on the process. There are no medical experts on it.”
The DWP said it was unable to disclose the names of individuals under review because of provisions of the Social Security Administration Act.
However, the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, a Scottish government-funded watchdog, published its comprehensive review of the suicide of a claimant known only as Ms DE this year. The MWCS concluded that the WCA process and the subsequent denial of ESA was at least a “major factor in her decision to take her own life”. It concluded that the work capability assessment process was flawed and needed to be more sensitive to mental health issues.
Colin McKay, chief executive of the Mental Welfare Commission of Scotland, said he was disappointed with the DWP response to the report on Ms DE, who died on 31 December 2011.
“Certainly, nothing in what they said gave us confidence that if another Ms DE was claiming benefit, the outcome would be any different,” he said. “If the number of deaths are 60, that’s a lot. You would expect any organisation experiencing deaths as the potential consequences of their actions would be seriously considering whether they needed to do anything differently.”
This year a whistleblower tasked with getting claimants out of the ESA sickness benefit told the Guardian that some of her clients were homeless, many had extreme mental health problems – including paranoid schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and autism – and some were “starving” and extremely depressed after having benefits stopped. “Almost every day one of my clients mentioned feelings of suicide to me” she said.
Mind released research on Thursday that found that people with mental illness were having their benefit cut more than those with other illnesses. It also found 83% of those with mental health problems surveyed said their self-esteem had worsened, and 76% said they felt less able to work as a result of DWP back-to-work schemes.
The DWP said: “We take these matters extremely seriously, which is why we carry out peer reviews in certain cases to establish whether anything should have been done differently. However, a peer review in itself does not automatically mean the department was at fault.
“Since its introduction in 2008 there have been four independent reviews of the work capability assessment and we have made significant improvements to make it better, fairer and more accurate.”
Source – Welfare Weekly, 14 Dec 201
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted that it failed to interview two whistleblowers who made serious allegations of fraud by a private sector provider within the government’s specialist work programme for disabled people.
DWP supposedly launched an investigation last autumn into the claims made against Seetec by two of its former employees.
Both of the women, Perveen Sud and Reena Gour, had sent brief emails alerting DWP that the Work Choice provider had been artificially inflating the number of jobs it said it was finding for disabled people.
But despite the serious allegations outlined in their emails last July and August, neither of the women has been interviewed by the DWP’s fraud investigators, and they only discovered that the government had cleared Seetec of fraud when informed last month by Disability News Service (DNS).
This week, DWP finally admitted that neither woman had been interviewed about the allegations they had made about Seetec, which is the worst-performing of the eight Work Choice contractors, according to the latest government figures.
A DWP spokesman claimed there was no reason to interview them because all the information the investigators needed was in their emails.
But DNS has seen the email sent by Sud last August and it includes only a 100-word summary of her allegations, over just four sentences.
None of the details that she passed to DNS were included in the email, and both Sud and Gour have told DNS that they had detailed information that they had been ready to share with DWP.
Sud and Gour have told DNS this week that they have been waiting for months for DWP to contact them about their claims.
Gour said: “It’s ridiculous. If someone makes allegations, you call them and you speak to them.”
Sud added: “They need to talk to us. It’s outrageous. There is no way you should have those kind of accusations made and not be interviewed about them.”
This week, DWP insisted that it had acted correctly and had not attempted to cover up their fraud claims.
The DWP spokesman said: “As far as I can work out, they [the whistleblowers] emailed the information to us and then they were written to a few months later to say it was still being investigated.
“As I understand it, the information they provided was investigated. They raise the issue and we look into it.
“[Our investigators] investigated it and found there was not fraud. If you wish to say it is a cover-up, that is your prerogative. I would say it is not a cover-up.”
Asked whether ministers were aware of the “investigation”, he said: “I really don’t know.”
Sud and Gour told DNS last year how Seetec offered Work Choice clients as free labour to charities and other host organisations, and then paid their wages for the next six months, while allegedly pretending to DWP that the salaries were instead being paid by the host organisations.
Three organisations told DNS how they had accepted disabled job-seekers for six-month placements, even though it was made clear to Seetec that they were just volunteer roles, they would not be paid, and there would be no jobs available at the end of the six months.
Despite this, Seetec – which provides Work Choice services in west and north London and has more than 800 employees – is alleged to have logged the placements as “job outcomes”, claiming payments from the government both at the beginning and end of the six months.
Seetec was able to make a profit because the amount it received from DWP – thousands of pounds for every client who completed six months in a job – was hundreds of pounds a month more than it paid the clients, who only had to work 20 hours a week at minimum wage to qualify for a job outcome.
Source – Disability News Service, 16 May 2014