The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is challenging an independent media outlet over its request for the department to release “secret benefit deaths reviews“. To do this, the DWP is also taking on an independent government body. It’s little wonder the department is trying to suppress the reports and their recommendations. This is because they are likely to expose the DWP’s systemic failings and negligence towards benefit claimants.
DWP: benefits death reviews
local DWP investigations which take place when a claimant takes their own life. They also happen when a vulnerable claimant complains to the DWP.
The department started them in 2012 – but it never publishes the results or the recommendations. As the Canary previously wrote, the DWP has:
even admitted to destroying some of the reports. And while it has launched a Serious Case Review panel to monitor them, so far it has done little.
So, Pring has been trying to force the DWP to release some of the IPRs since 2020, but with personal details redacted. He wants it to publish the recommendations made in the reviews. However, Pring has repeatedly hit a brick wall with the department.
John Pring: forcing the department’s hand?
As Pring wrote for DNS, he wants the DWP to release:
secret reports completed between April 2019 and September 2020
However, the department has repeatedly refused to release this info, ever since Pring first tried to obtain it in September 2020. He even took the case to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO), which deals with public bodies like the DWP and what they do with things like freedom of information (FOI) requests. The ICO ruled in October 2022 that the DWP has to release the information. As Pring previously wrote, the ICO:
found that DWP breached the Freedom of Information Act by blocking documents which would have showed recommendations made by its own civil servants to improve safety and reduce the number of suicides and other deaths.
A catalogue of failings
It’s not the first time Pring has taken on the DWP over its secret benefit death reviews. He challenged it back in 2016 over 49 reports it was refusing to release – and won. Then, he won again and again. As Pring wrote, the 2016 reports:
showed that at least 13 reports had explicitly raised concerns about the way that “vulnerable” benefit claimants were being treated by DWP.
Another review obtained by DNS, in 2018, helped show how DWP had been forced to soften the “threatening” tone of the agreement that universal credit claimants must sign to receive their benefits.
And in December 2020, another freedom of information request allowed DNS to show that DWP staff had had to be repeatedly reminded what to do when claimants said they may take their own lives, following reviews into as many as six suicides.
Those reviews suggested that a series of suicides between 2014 and 2019 were linked to the failure of DWP staff to follow basic rules that had been introduced in 2009.
Predictably, the DWP refused to give Pring comment over his latest challenge to it. However, as the Canary previously reported, deaths documented in IPRs may just be the tip of the iceberg anyway:
between 2011 and 2018 alone nearly 35,000 DWP claimants died. They died either waiting for the DWP to sort their claims or after it said they were well enough to work or start moving towards work. To put this into context, in one month during that time period, it would mean over 700 people could have died on the DWP’s watch. Also, in 2018 alone there were at least 750 (if not more) people who took their own lives…
Pring says that a tribunal will hear the DWP’s appeal of the ICO decision later this year. Moreover, the news comes weeks after DNS revealed that the DWP had wasted £66m on a programme it created to reduce the number of benefit claimants taking their own lives. Clearly, the department is doing little to change the idea that it has something to hide over benefit claimants’ deaths.
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