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Investigation reveals 150 DWP reviews into deaths or harm to benefits claimants

More than 150 reviews into deaths or serious harm to benefits claimants have been held by the Department of Work and Pensions, a BBC investigation has revealed.

Posted on 10 May 2021

Such internal reviews are held by the government department when it is alleged its actions had a negative impact, or when it is named at an inquest.

An investigation by the BBC Shared Data Unit revealed the 150 cases since 2012 and reported a call by MP Debbie Abrahams for an inquiry into the DWP’s handling of the cases.

The DWP said it had established a new Serious Case Panel in 2019 to consider themes identified from serious cases.

Three families affected by the DWP reviews are represented by Leigh Day lawyers, Merry Varney and Tessa Gregory. The families spoke to the BBC to share their stories and the legal stages of their cases.

Philippa Day who lived with a long standing mental health illness, and was diabetic, died aged 27 in October 2019, two months after she was found collapsed at home in Nottingham.

On 27 January 2021, HM Assistant Coroner for Nottinghamshire, Gordon Clow concluded that the problems Philippa had with her application for disability benefits were “the predominant…and the only acute factor” which led her to take action on 8 August 2019 that ultimately proved fatal.

Following the inquest, a letter of claim has been sent to DWP and Capita which alleges breach of human rights and negligence by the DWP and Capita arising out of the events which led to Philippa’s death and seeks compensation for the wrongs Philippa and her family suffered. DWP and Capita have three months to respond before claims may be pursued in the High Court.

Jodey Whiting, aged 42, took her own life on 21 February 2017. She suffered severe mental health problems and had her benefits terminated a fortnight earlier for not attending a Work Capability Assessment, leaving her with no source of income.

The Attorney General granted their consent last year for an application to the High Court for a fresh inquest into her death, which the High Court will hear on 22 June 2021. Jodey’s mother seeks a fresh inquest to ensure the role played by the DWP in her daughter’s death are publicly and fully investigated.

The families of Jodey and Philippa are represented by Leigh Day partner, Merry Varney.

Errol Graham, was found dead aged 57 in June 2018, eight months after his benefits were stopped because of his failure to attend a fit for work assessment. When his body was found, Mr Graham weighed four-and-a-half stone.

An inquest in 2019 found that DWP and NHS staff had missed opportunities to save Graham, and the coroner concluded that “the safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it”.

Represented by Leigh Day partner, Tessa Gregory, Mr Graham’s family have submitted an application to the Court of Appeal after their judicial review challenging the lawfulness of the DWP’s safeguarding policies was unsuccessful. The family argue that the decision in 2017 to terminate his benefits was unlawful and that the DWP’s safeguarding policies and systems need to be overhauled to provide greater protection to vulnerable benefit claimants who, like Errol, suffer from mental health conditions.

Merry Varney
Court of Protection Human rights Inquests Judicial review

Merry Varney

Merry is a partner in the human rights department and head of the Leigh Day inquest group

Tessa Gregory
Corporate accountability Human rights Judicial review Planning Wildlife

Tessa Gregory

Tessa is an experienced litigator who specialises in international and domestic human rights law cases

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