DWP staff fail in two-fifths of cases to meet new standards aimed at preventing claimant deaths

Mon,24 June 2024
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A survey by the department found its staff did not meet the standards on hundreds of occasions, the Disability News Service (DNS) reports.

The standards include staff having to identify if a disabled person will need extra support with their benefit claim, making sure they provide reasonable adjustments for a disabled claimant, and following the department’s six-point plan, which tells staff what actions to take when claimants say they intend to self-harm or take their own lives.

DNS has previously reported how DWP staff had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants threaten to take their own lives, following secret reviews into as many as six suicides linked to the benefits system.

The survey results – which were revealed in a series of DWP responses to freedom of information requests made by welfare rights expert Owen Stevens, from Child Poverty Action Group – show that frontline staff are still failing to follow rules laid down for them to follow to prevent deaths and other “serious cases”.

The results relate to a new set of 17 customer support standards that DWP introduced last year, which were “designed specifically to improve the experience of customers with complex needs and significantly reduce instances of serious cases by providing the right support at the right time”.

The survey, carried out in April across the range of benefits provided by DWP, examined a sample of nearly 4,000 claims.

Across those cases, 1,309 separate standards should have been met by DWP staff, but the survey found that on only 814 occasions (62%) of the time) did they follow the process correctly.

The survey results add to months of mounting concerns about DWP’s continuing failure to protect disabled claimants with significant support needs.

Last month, DNS reported how a survey by the Commons Work and Pensions Committee found two-thirds of DWP staff still do not have enough time to deal with safeguarding concerns “carefully” and “correctly”, despite years of deaths of benefit claimants linked with DWP’s actions and failings.

Last December, a dossier of evidence submitted by the PCS union to DWP showed the department to be a failing organisation in a “state of crisis” and facing a “near collapse” of its benefits systems, with staff accusing DWP of “deliberate neglect” and revealing that claimants in vulnerable situations were “falling through the gaps” in the system.

Meanwhile, DNS has reported on three suicides of universal credit claimants that have also raised critical concerns about DWP safeguarding.

In May, DWP admitted missing multiple opportunities to record the “vulnerability” of Nazerine Anderson, whose death was later linked by a coroner to failings at the heart of universal credit.

The new customer support standards were referred to by DWP in its response to the prevention of future deaths (PFD) report sent to the department by the coroner.

Last November, another coroner wrote to the department after the death of Kevin Gale, to warn DWP that it needed to act to prevent flaws in the universal credit system leading to further deaths, after Gale took his own life after becoming overwhelmed by the application process.

And in November 2022, DNS reported how a disabled woman left traumatised by the daily demands of universal credit took her own life just four days after being told she would need to attend a face-to-face meeting with a work coach. Her inquest has yet to take place.

Because of the election campaign, the DWP has not responded to the survey results with a statement, but it did provide a series of background points that it has previously issued in response to previous concerns.

These stress that the department supports millions of people a year and that in nearly all cases claimants receive a supportive and compassionate service.

It also stresses that the safety of customers who may need additional support remains a top priority and that it has safeguards in place to protect them, including mental health training for all frontline staff.

Ken Butler DR UK’s Welfare Rights and Policy Officer said: “For over 25 years, DNS editor John Pring has doggedly investigated and exposed how the DWP’s policies and procedures have caused serious harm to and the deaths of Disabled people.

“The DWP has consistently argued in turn that it has no statutory duty of care towards claimants.

“This attitude means that safety and well-being cannot be uppermost in the DWP’s policy practices.

 “The current Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) investigation of the DWP is welcome if long overdue.

“However, it is concerning that the EHRC is not seeking evidence from individual disabled people or relatives of those who have died due to DWP failings.

“Yet these are the very people who can give the most informed evidence to its inquiry.”

Source - DWP staff fail in two-fifths of cases to meet new standards aimed at stopping deaths available from disabilitynewsservice.com.

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