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DWP responds to Coroner’s Prevention of Death notice following tragic death of Philippa Day

01 June 2021

In January 2021, a Coroner delivered a damning indictment of systemic problems at the DWP that contributed to the decision of Philippa Day to take an overdose that led to her death.

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

She was a diabetic who suffered unstable personality disorder, had taken an overdose of insulin as a result of stresses including mental health problems and a growing sense of failure

However, the Coroner held that the “predominant factor” affecting her decision to take an overdose was the financial distress caused by the administration of welfare benefits which led to acute distress and exacerbated the other stresses.

As a result, he issued a prevention of future deaths (POD) notice to call for the DWP to consider and address three areas of concern:

  • Mental health training for DWP call handlers

The Inquest heard that this has not to date formed part of their mandatory training programme before taking calls.

  • Record keeping at the DWP

The Coroner found that poor record keeping had contributed to poor decision making regarding Pip’s claim, without relevant factors being taken into account, and that there had been no evidence of improvements in this respect since Pip’s death.

  • The change of assessment process

This is the process by which someone can seek to change the mode of a disability assessment to be carried out by Capita (on DWP’s behalf), for example from a clinic assessment to a home assessment. This process was one of the core issues at Philippa’s Inquest as a letter confirming that she would be required to attend a clinic assessment (despite repeated requests made by Pip’s community psychiatric nurses to change this to a home assessment) was found on Pip’s bed after she had taken the action which proved fatal on 8 August 2019.

The Coroner found that the evidence of Philippa’s case showed that Capita’s system was “unable to correct even obvious errors” and was not persuaded that there was sufficient “commitment on the part

The DWP has now issued response to the POD notice that includes the following:

  • Mental health awareness training

“We recognise the need to treat everyone with empathy and care; especially those with mental health conditions. Because of this, and in response to the Coroner’s concerns, we have amended our training for new entrants.

From 1 April 2021 all new entrants handling PIP and Employment Support Allowance (“ESA”; an income-maintenance benefit for people with a disability or health condition that limits their capacity to work or engage in work-related activity) will therefore undertake the mental health, behaviour and relationships training  in addition to the “supporting vulnerable customers” training before they handle calls from claimants on their own.

We are also arranging for existing colleagues in those roles who have not yet received the training to undertake it by 30 June 2021.”

  • Improvements to record-keeping and note-taking

“We issued internal communications to all staff working on PIP and ESA early in March 2021 to reinforce the importance of recording notes on the appropriate computer systems and remind them that all colleagues are required to ensure that notes:

  • are made following all interactions with customers or third parties where an accurate record of it is needed, and
  • are an accurate and factual account of the conversation, including both any action agreed or taken, and the full reasons for decisions made.

To ensure a consistent focus on recording accurate notes on the system we are now building the subject into our PIP decision-making “quality assurance checks” and updating the documents that define quality standards for PIP colleagues.

… We also plan to add a new section, about recording notes on the PIP computer system, to the instructions that colleagues working on PIP claims use for guidance. We expect both of these actions to be completed by the end of Summer 2021.”

  • Changes to the health assessment process

“DWP is working with Capita and Independent Assessment Services, to ensure a process is put in place that allows assessments to be paused even when an appointment has already been scheduled to allow for the gathering of additional information or changing the type or location of the assessment.

The new process ensures that a claimant’s assessment can be paused without affecting that claim while the reason for the pause is addressed. Elements of this change have already been implemented with the full process, including the IT elements, being implemented across the whole of the PIP assessment service by the end of September 2021.”

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

“It is a scandal that it has taken the tragic death of a young Disabled mother and a legal notice for the DWP to review and make changes to the way it implements the disability benefits system.

The DWP should have a statutory duty of care towards all claimants and be subject to an independent inquiry in to the succession of benefit related deaths that have occurred in recent years.”

The full DWP POD notice response is available from judiciary.uk.

Capita’s response to the POD notice is also available from judiciary.uk.

See also the related 10 May 2021 DR UK news story Philippa Day death: family launches legal challenge against DWP.