A mother whose daughter took her own life after what she described as “obvious failings” by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has hit another brick wall with the justice system. So, she’s having to go to the Court of Appeal to try and get answers about the DWP’s role in her daughter’s death.
The Canary has been documenting the case of Jodey Whiting. The 42-year-old mother took her own life on 21 February 2017. It was three days after the DWP made her last social security payment. Whiting’s case involved numerous failings by the DWP. It stopped her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) because she failed to go to a Work Capability Assessment (WCA), and as lawyers Leigh Day pointed out:
- The DWP failed to arrange a home visit for Whiting for her WCA. It arranged an appointment at an assessment centre, despite Whiting’s request for a home assessment because she “rarely left the house due to her health”.
- It also didn’t take into consideration that Whiting had made the department aware she lived with “suicidal thoughts a lot of the time and could not cope with work or looking for work”.
- And it did not complete a Mandatory Reconsideration of its decision to stop Whiting’s ESA until after her death.
The DWP, in stopping her ESA, also caused Whiting to lose her Housing Benefit and Council Tax Reduction. So, she was effectively destitute.
Whiting’s health was poor. She lived with various physical health conditions and mental health issues. These included a brain cyst, curvature of the spine, and bipolar disorder. Whiting was taking 23 tablets a day for her illnesses and conditions. Yet the DWP stopped her money anyway.
Official bodies have looked at Whiting’s situation. In May 2017, a coroner failed to consider any role the DWP and its decisions had in Whiting’s death. But the Independent Case Examiner, the body which investigates the DWP in certain situations, found multiple failings in its handling of her case. Its report stated that:
In total there have been five opportunities for DWP processes to prompt particular consideration of Jodey’s mental health status and give careful consideration to her case because of it – none of those were taken.
Moreover, an independent investigation found that:
the DWP’s failings would probably have had a substantial effect on Jodey’s mental state at the time she took her own life.
Since then, Whiting’s mother Joy Dove has been fighting for a second inquest into her daughter’s death.
Battling the legal system
First, Dove (represented by Leigh Day) went to the High Court to ask for a second inquest. But three judges denied her application, saying that the first inquest was sufficient. One judge noted that:
It is likely to remain a matter of speculation as to whether or not the department’s decision caused Ms Whiting’s suicide.
In my judgment, it would be extremely difficult for a new inquest to conclude that the department caused Ms Whiting’s death.
So, Dove appealed the High Court’s decision. This was lodged on 1 October. But on 11 October, the High Court refused Dove an appeal. Now, she’s lodged a second application to appeal the High Court’s decision. This is with the Court of Appeal.
The DWP: “obvious failings”
Dove said in a press release:
My fight continues to have a fresh inquest that will examine the role of the DWP in Jodey’s death. It seems to me that there were obvious failings in the way the DWP treated Jodey, which were proved and documented by the Independent Case Examiner, and it is ridiculous that this has not been fully and publicly investigated. How can lessons be learned, and future tragedies prevented, if no one examines this properly?
Merry Varney of law firm Leigh Day said:
The possible link between the DWP making repeated errors in the handling of Jodey’s welfare benefits claim shortly before her death, which left her without income, housing benefit and council tax benefit, and her death has never been publicly investigated. Having obtained the Attorney-General’s permission to apply to the High Court for a second inquest, it is disappointing the High Court rejected our client’s application on all grounds and we hope the Court of Appeal will allow her the opportunity to overturn this decision.
Now, Dove will have to wait once more to see if a court will agree that Whiting’s original inquest was inadequate.
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