DWP failings linked to death of claimant whose body lay undiscovered for years

Wed,15 February 2023
News Benefits
The body of a disabled woman lay undiscovered in her flat for more than three years after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) cut off her disability benefits, Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

Laura Winham’s body was not found until May 2021, more than three-and-a-half years after she was last seen alive.

DNS says that the case has echoes of other tragic cases in which the bodies of disabled people were discovered months after the DWP wrongly cut off their benefits, and should add to pressure for a public inquiry into deaths linked to the Department’s actions.

Lawyers for Winham’s family say that the DWP wrote to her in 2016 to say she would need to apply for the new personal independence payment (PIP) as her disability living allowance (DLA) was ending.

But they say that the DWP did not carry out checks on her welfare when she failed to apply for PIP, and instead stopped her DLA payments, which she had been receiving for many years due to her physical impairments.

The following year, in October 2017, police officers – possibly the last people to see her alive – reported safeguarding concerns to Surrey County Council after visiting her flat, as she appeared to have been “self-neglecting”, had little food and appeared unaware how to access support from local services.

Despite being told her phone was not working, the council’s Adult Social Care Department tried to call her, and then wrote to her with details of local food banks and support teams. 

Two weeks later, her case was closed with no contact having been made.

Her family believe she died several weeks later, in November 2017, at the age of 38. The only money she had was a handful of loose change.

Her family had been unable to maintain regular contact with her because she believed – following years of significant mental distress and a diagnosis of schizophrenia – that they wanted to harm her.

Although her rent continued to be paid through housing benefit, her gas supply was eventually cut off in January 2019.

Her family believe that no-one from adult social care or the community mental health team had visited her for years, even though she had been sectioned twice.

The DWP refused to say to DNS whether this was another case of a disabled person dying in isolation after having their benefits wrongly removed, and refused to say why more was not done to check on Winham’s safety and to alert local bodies.

The Department also declined to say if this and many other deaths had exposed systemic failings in the benefits system.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Adviser said: “As DNS highlights, the circumstances of Laura Winham’s death echo other similar tragedies over the last decade that have been closely linked to DWP.

“A public inquiry is vital to learn the lessons from deaths and serious harm linked to the social security system and to safeguard Disabled people.”

Source and for further information see DWP failings linked to death of claimant whose body lay undiscovered for years available from disabilitynewsservice.com.

For more information see also Dis Life: 'Disabled people are too often falling off the radar and it's costing lives' by our Media and Communications Manager Anna Morell.

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