DWP to stop ‘cold-calling’ Disabled people to make low benefit ‘offers’

Wed,14 July 2021
News Benefits

In response to a legal challenge by a Public Law Project (PLP) client, a disabled woman called ‘K’, the DWP has agreed to change its practice of pressuring Disabled benefits claimants into accepting less than they are legally entitled to.

K has spent more than a year trying to persuade the DWP to change their unlawful practice. Initially, the DWP flatly refused to do so, but the day before her claim for judicial review was to be heard in the High Court on 13 July, by way of a Consent Order, it agreed to amend its policies and guidance and settle the claim.

Evidence gathered over many months showed that:

  • Disabled benefits claimants who had appealed a DWP decision on their benefits were being called by the DWP and encouraged to accept ‘offers’ that were lower than their statutory entitlement;
  • DWP callers repeatedly telephoned claimants directly even when claimants had made clear that they had representatives who should have been contacted first; and
  • the people who were called were not told about their appeal rights. 

K made a claim for PIP and was initially refused in 2017. She applied again in 2019 and was only awarded a small amount.

After an unsuccessful internal review, K began a tribunal appeal as she was told by her GP and support workers that she was entitled to the highest levels of PIP benefit.

After her appeal process had started, the DWP telephoned without warning from a ‘withheld’ number and pressurised her into accepting a bit more than they had offered before, but not the full entitlement.

The DWP told her that she had an hour to consider the ‘offer’ and said “tribunals are not very nice to go to” which dissuaded her from going through with the appeal.

The DWP did not call K’s mother who helps her with all her financial affairs.

K did not think she could appeal the new ‘offer’ and the DWP did not tell her about her rights. K ended up feeling suicidal and struggled to cope.

When K realised that the DWP had been doing this to other Disabled benefits claimants too, she resolved to take action and instructed PLP to help her challenge this practice.

Evidence gathered on K’s behalf from a range of individuals and NGOs shows that:

  • claimants felt pressure to accept the ‘offer’;
  • were regularly not told about their appeal rights; and
  • were not given an opportunity to discuss any offer with representatives.

K said:

“The practice of phoning people in this way just isn’t right. It’s not just about the cold calling, it’s the whole way they treat you on the call. I felt extremely pressured to make a quick decision.

I wasn’t given the time I needed to speak to my mum or seek any advice, they didn’t give me the information that I needed to work out if it was what I was entitled to, and they didn’t tell me I could accept the offer and still appeal the decision if I wanted.

It feels as though the DWP has been picking on extremely vulnerable people and using the fear of going to a tribunal or losing an award to pressure people into accepting less than they should be getting.”

Sara Lomri, K’s solicitor at PLP, said:

“Unfortunately, a practice has developed over the last few years at the DWP whereby benefits decision makers have been putting pressure on eligible Disabled benefits claimants to accept less than their statutory entitlement. Most people would be outraged if they knew that a friend or vulnerable relative was treated this way.

It has not been easy for our client to bring this claim. This challenge has demanded a huge amount of personal resilience and determination. Our client does not stand to gain any sort of pay-out here, she is doing this simply to make sure that nobody else has to go through what she did.

Judicial review is always a last resort, and this case shows why there must be an accessible legal route for people to hold public authorities to account. The law is there for us all to follow, and when the state makes a mistake, acts unlawfully, and will not change itself, there must be a way to correct it.”

Among DWP undertakings made in the Consent Order include that:

  • it will amend its “Best Practice Memorandum” (“BPM”) to say that it is “essential” that case workers who contact benefit claimants about the making of such a revision should tell them that, if they decide to agree to the proposed revision, they will have a right of appeal against that decision.
  • the it DWP intends to deliver by the end of October a mandatory training session to all Disputes Resolution Service Decision Makers involved in lapsing to reinforce the messages of the revised BPM guidance.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said:

"The conceding of its malpractice by the DWP shows the importance of Disabled people being able to challenge unfair, unlawful and discriminatory by way of judicial review.

This right must not be taken away.

That the DWP only conceded to change its ‘cold-calling’ practice due to legal action taken against it shows far it needs to travel before gaining the trust of Disabled people.”

For more information see DWP to stop ‘cold-calling’ Disabled people to make low benefit ‘offers’ available from publiclawproject.org.uk.