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DWP outlines safeguarding procedures for vulnerable benefits claimants

The Department of Work and Pensions has outlined how its safeguarding procedures will work following the deaths by suicides of claimants whose benefits had been stopped.

22 July 2020

The Work and Pensions Select Committee, meeting on Wednesday, 22 July, was told what measures would be in place to better protect vulnerable claimants.
 
Frontline staff would offer support to at-risk claimants who fail to co-operate with jobcentre staff by liasing with other agencies such as the NHS and police, rather than terminating benefits after failure to make contact with Claimants. 
 
The department’s permanent secretary, Peter Schofield told the committee: 

“The change now is that if we tried all of that [contacting the claimant by phone and carrying out two safeguarding visits] we would then take that back and have a case conference about the individual and particularly, obviously if it's someone with vulnerabilities that we know about, then we would seek to involve other organisations that might have a different way of knowing about that individual. …And then we would seek to understand what do they know about that individual and how can we support them.

"And if that fails that could then be escalated to the safeguarding leads. And in that way basically what we’d seek to do is provide support not removal of benefits.”
 
Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Therese Coffey told MPs: “I’m very conscious that when things go wrong they can go badly wrong for people and we need to be much more agile about how we pick that up,” The Guardian reported.
 
Among those people whose cases were mentioned at the committee was Errol Graham, who was found starved to death aged 57, after his benefits has been stopped.
 
He was known to suffer from serious mental health issues but in line with DWP safeguarding policies his benefits were terminated after he missed an appointment and the DWP were unable to contact him. Before cutting off his income no attempt was made to ascertain the state of Mr Graham’s health and no attempt was made to contact his GP or his family.
 
Mr Graham’s son’s partner, Alison Turner, is represented by Leigh Day solicitors. She was recently granted permission to proceed with her judicial review of the DWP’s safeguarding procedures and the department’s failure to act on promises it had made at Mr Graham’s inquest to change those procedures.
 
Leigh Day Partner Tessa Gregory said:
 
“In her legal case our client has been calling for urgent changes to be made to the DWP's safeguarding procedures on the basis that the current policies are unlawful as they fail to adequately protect vulnerable claimants like Errol, but the DWP has repeatedly refused to revise those policies.
 
“Today's announcement that the procedures have changed is news to us and news to our client. Whilst we cautiously welcome the announcement, it is imperative that the Secretary of State publishes the relevant guidance immediately so that our client and the public can see whether it actually requires decision makers to liaise with different agencies in cases like Errol's and whether enough has been done to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected.”
  

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