Benefits system errors ‘predominant factor’ in Disabled claimant’s death

Tue,26 January 2021
News Equality & Rights

Errors in the benefits system were the ‘predominant factor’ in Philippa Day’s death, a Coroner has found.

Recording a narrative conclusion into Philippa’s death, Assistant Coroner Gordon Clow noted problems including the fact she was told to go for an assessment despite being eligible for a home assessment, and the lack of control staff had to be able to change automated letters being sent to her. While not ruling that the chain of events involving the DWP led directly to her suicide, he said: "…it was, at the least, Philippa Day’s intention to place her life at risk and to cause herself serious physical harm. It is not possible to determine on the available evidence whether or not it was her intention to thereby end her life."

He is recommending changes at both the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Capita, which undertakes work on behalf of the DWP.

Philippa died after being in a coma for two months after she was found collapsed at her home in August 2019. A letter was found next to her rejecting her request for a benefits assessment to be carried out at her home.

Philippa was Disabled. She had a personality disorder and diabetes and had been claiming Disability Living Allowance for her diabetes for a decade, but began a claim for PIP in November 2018. The application form was apparently lost by the DWP and Philippa’s DLA payments were stopped in January 2019.

They were not reinstated or replaced by PIP for almost six months and Philippa fell into serious debt.

The court heard about a call by Philippa to the DWP in which she cried while describing her poverty and debt. She said she was “literally starving and cold… I have nothing to eat… I genuinely can’t survive like this for much longer”. The agent who took the call said she did not raise the call with Philippa’s case manager and did not follow the DWP’s six-point plan on suicidal statements. The agent said she had heard many claimants crying and saying similar things. 

The court also heard that inaccurate record-keeping on Philippa’s case had affected its progress.

A community psychiatric nurse told Capita that a face-to-face interview at an assessment centre scheduled for Philippa was causing immense distress. Capita refused to offer a home assessment.

Philippa’s family told the inquest that they believe the difficulties she had with both the DWP and Capita were the reasons she tried to take her own life.

DR UK’s Fazilet Hadi said: “An independent Inquiry into benefit-related deaths is long overdue. Philippa’s story is heartbreaking and reveals gross incompetence by the DWP and Capita. The DWP must take responsibility for safeguarding. It is in contact with millions of Disabled people with a variety of complex physical and mental conditions. It needs to put care at the heart of its processes to ensure it actively supports our needs and protects us from systemic harm.”