The DWP unlawfully destroyed a damning report about its failure to safeguard claimants in jobcentres, the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found. But, there will be no criminal prosecution.
The destroyed report was written by disabled people under a Community Partners initiative with the DWP. They created the document after becoming alarmed by the failure to safeguard claimants of benefits, including employment and support allowance, in the 18 jobcentres they were working with.
The report was written in August or September 2017 and a copy was requested under the Freedom of Information Act by John Pring of Disability News Service.
At first, the DWP simply failed to answer the request.
When put under more pressure, they claimed that they did not have any reports written by Community Partners and that Community Partners ‘were not required to write reports’.
After DNS complained to the ICO, the DWP finally handed over a number of reports, but not the safeguarding report.
Finally, following further pressure, the DWP admitted that the report had been written. But they said they had destroyed it after 12 months, in line with their data protection procedures.
However, the 12 months would have run out at least four months after DNS requested a copy, making the destruction entirely illegal. It is a criminal offence to deliberately destroy documents that are subject to an FoI request in order to avoid disclosing them.
Sadly, if predictably, the ICO decided that although the DWP had clearly destroyed the document unlawfully there was no evidence that the report was “intentionally destroyed” by DWP “with the intention to prevent its disclosure”.
So, once again the DWP get away with flouting the law, whilst claimants live in fear of being prosecuted for the most innocent of mistakes.