DWP told to publish details of benefit claimants’ deaths

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Judge says DWP should release documents relating to its investigations into deaths of 49 people claiming benefits 

20th April 2016 by Robert Armour 0 Comments

Details of investigations by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) into the deaths of 49 claimants could be published after a successful tribunal appeal by campaigners.

Disability News Service (DNS) first disclosed that the DWP had conducted reviews into the deaths of benefit claimants after a freedom of information request in 2014.

It has now won its appeal against the DWP’s refusal to publish any information from them.  

Disability rights campaigners, mental health charities and the families of claimants who have killed themselves or died after cuts to benefits have argued that peer reviews - triggered when a suicide or alleged suicide is “associated with a DWP activity” – should be published by the DWP. 

We are hoping we will be able to draw strong conclusions - John Pring

John Pring, of DNS, said the data was crucial in order to hold the DWP to account over deaths linked to the withdrawal or non-payment of benefits and fit-for-work tests.

“It is good news and hopefully will allow us to hold DWP to account for actions they have taken with regard to benefit deaths,” said Pring. “We are hoping we will be able to draw strong conclusions.”

However he said it was unclear whether all the information would be released under existing legislation.

The information will not include details of the circumstances of the death or even the summaries of the findings, but is expected to provide most of the recommendations.

Andrew Bartlett, QC, the tribunal judge who led the three-person tribunal panel, said in the ruling: “We express the hope that DWP will revisit Mr Pring’s information request in the light of our decision to allow the appeal and set aside the [information commissioner’s] decision notice and, under the oversight of the commissioner, disclose what should have been disclosed in answer to his request.”

Anita Bellows, of Disabled People Against Cuts, said: “The department’s culture of secrecy means that mistakes were and are covered up, and not rectified. DWP always maintained that these peer reviews only dealt with DWP procedures compliance and were not a forensic examination of what went wrong. Therefore they are unlikely to have led to major improvements in the way claimants are treated, but they can offer us a very useful insight into the way the DWP works, or not.”

Some 49 reviews of deaths between February 2012 and the autumn of 2014 has been investigated by the DWP. Twenty-two of them occurred in 2012/13. There were 16 in 2013/14 and 11 in 2014/15.

It is not clear whether the DWP will appeal the decision. 

A DWP spokesman said: “We have received the tribunal’s decision and are considering the judgment.”