Claimant deaths still linked to systemic flaws in benefits system, DWP document shows

Fri,27 January 2023
News Benefits
Scores of deaths of claimants in the last three years have been linked to persistent, systemic flaws in the way benefits are managed by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), an official document has shown.

The DWP document, released to Disability News Service (DNS) following a freedom of information request, shows numerous deaths have been linked by the Department’s own civil servants to flaws in the universal credit, complaints, personal independence payment (PIP) and work capability assessment systems.

The document lists some of the recommendations for improvements made by secret DWP “Internal Process Reviews” (IPRs) that were completed between 1 September 2020 and 14 November 2022 following the deaths of 46 claimants of PIP, universal credit and other benefits.

The recommendations released suggest close links between numerous deaths and key parts of the benefits system, despite more than a decade of such tragedies.

A reference in one recommendation to “the correct gathering of information prior to claim closure” suggests serious continuing problems with the work capability assessment system, which has been linked to countless deaths over the last 13 years, while another recommendation suggests a failure to accurately record changes to a claimant’s account on the employment and support allowance system.

There are about 20 recommendations relating to universal credit (UC), all of them linked to the deaths of UC claimants.

The document also shows numerous recommendations made in IPRs relating to the PIP system.

One of the most concerning recommendations – made in an IPR examined in January 2022 – is a call for DWP’s PIP department to assure the team overseeing IPRs that “they will explore opportunities for improving compassionate call handling techniques for telephony agents”.

The inquest into the death of Philippa Day heard a DWP “telephony agent” had listened to Philippa sobbing as she described how she was “literally starving and cold”, “genuinely can’t survive like this for much longer”, was “in so much debt”, “literally cannot leave the house”, and needed “a reason to live”.

But the agent offered no reassurance or acknowledgement of Philippa’s distress, and made no attempt – during the call in the summer of 2019 – to “escalate” any concerns to senior colleagues.

This reference to a lack of compassion again suggests systemic problems.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: "Disability News Service continues to investigate and highlight the tragic deaths of disabled people who have lost their lives due to DWP negligent processes.

“The case for an independent review into benefit related deaths both overwhelming and urgent.”

Note: The Deaths by Welfare project has released a new podcast that features Imogen Day, Philippa Day’s sister, and John Pring, editor of DNS, discussing the IPR system and the fight for an independent inquiry into benefit-related deaths

Source and for further information see Claimant deaths still linked to systemic flaws in benefits system, DWP document shows available from

See also our related new story Cross Party MPs call for public inquiry into benefit related deaths