The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing another potential legal challenge to its policy. This time, it’s over what a claimant alleges is its failure to meet his accessibility needs. The claimant says that the department has been a “nightmare”.
DWP: not meeting accessibility needs?
Dr Yusuf Ali Osman is a blind, self-employed worker. His job only entails a small amount of work. So, he also claims Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) and Personal Independence Payment (PIP). Given his disability status as blind, you’d think that the DWP would take his accessibility needs into consideration as standard – but this has not been the case.
Law firm Leigh Day is representing Osman. It said in a press release that the DWP has repeatedly failed to send him accessible letters and documents. This would be either in braille or in a form that text-to-speech AI could interpret. Leigh Day noted that Osman has asked the DWP to use these methods:
but instead they frequently use printed hard copy letters or scanned PDFs attached to email, which are not accessible.
[The DWP should] either send the communication in the body of an email, or attach it as either a Word document or as a PDF with selectable text. If the PDF does not contain selectable text, it cannot be accessed by Screenreaders which blind and visually impaired people rely on to read out the text of a document. Instead, the DWP has sent Dr Osman documents that they have scanned in and attached to an email. These PDFs are not compatible with Screenreaders and are therefore inaccessible.
The DWP’s failures have, according to Leigh Day, caused Osman to ‘miss vital communications and deadlines’. So, he is asking the Royal Courts of Justice for a judicial review of the situation.
A potential judicial review
Leigh Day said that Osman’s grounds for a judicial review are that the DWP has failed to:
- “Make reasonable adjustments in sending disability and employment benefits communications”. This may breach the Equality Act.
- “Provide individual communications in an accessible format in breach of Article 14 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR)”.
- “Have regard to the Accessible Information Standard, under section 250(6)(a) of the Health and Social Care Act 2012, which requires that certain communications, which are related to health and social care, are sent in an accessible form”.
The Royal National Institute of Blind People (RNIB) is supporting Osman’s case. Its legal adviser Samantha Fothergill said in a press release:
In our view, the systems and processes being operated by the DWP to secure the provision of accessible information to blind and partially sighted people are simply not fit for purpose. Time and again we receive complaints from blind and partially sighted individuals which show that lessons from the past decade have not been learned and that the Department continues to fail to meet its legal obligations.
DWP: a “nightmare”
Osman himself said of the situation:
It has been a nightmare trying to get the DWP to communicate with me in a way that I can actually read and understand. I have tried asking on the telephone and in written letters but the problems have continued which is why I have now resorted to legal action. The consequences of not knowing, or not understanding the DWP’s rules can be significant – ultimately the loss of benefits – which are my means of survival.
As The Canary has documented, claimants have repeatedly taken the DWP to court across many years. They have had varying degrees of success. Osman’s case is only in the early stages. However, if it’s successful, it could result in a court ruling that the DWP has acted unlawfully – and force it to change its policies.
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