The DWP have been forced to change the guidance on safeguarding claimants as they scramble to avoid being savaged in court by the family of Errol Graham. Claimants with mental health conditions should now be much less likely to have their benefits stopped if they miss a work capability assessment (WCA).
Errol Graham was 57 when he starved to death in June 2018. His ESA and housing benefit were stopped after he failed to attend a work capability assessment. This was done without checking on his mental or physical health wellbeing, even though he was known to have serious mental health issues.
In February of this year, Errol’s family began the process of launching a judicial review challenging the legality of the current safeguarding policies and the failure of the DWP to revise those policies.
Just this week we reported that the family had now been granted a two day hearing in the High Court.
Suddenly, without any prior consultation or discussion, the DWP have announced that they have changed the safeguarding procedure for vulnerable claimants so that a case conference will take place to try to avoid stopping benefits in the way they were in Errol Graham’s case.
In addition, having insisted that meetings of the Serious Case Panel (SCP) were secret and not subject to the Freedom of Information Act, the DWP have now published the minutes of the panel online.
The SCP, which was set up to look at claimant deaths, has met only twice so far according to the minutes.
In March, immediately after Graham’s family began their legal proceedings, the committee discussed the issue of stopping payments and, in a flurry of jargon, decided that:
“The Customer Experience Directorate will start a cross-government dialogue in the adult safeguarding space and suggest that government departments and agencies co-develop a way to join up to support vulnerable citizens where there is no clear lead department to provide that support.”
At the Work and Pensions Select Committee meeting on 22 July, the DWP said that in future, if they are unable to contact a claimant who has missed their WCA:
“ . . . we would then take that back and have a case conference about the individual and particularly, obviously if it's someone with vulnerabilities that we know about, then we would seek to involve other organisations that might have a different way of knowing about that individual. …And then we would seek to understand what do they know about that individual and how can we support them.
"And if that fails that could then be escalated to the safeguarding leads. And in that way basically what we’d seek to do is provide support not removal of benefits.”
Solicitors Leigh Day, who are acting on behalf of Graham’s family, expressed their surprise at the announcement and made it clear that they want to see the guidance issued to decision makers on this subject:
“In her legal case our client has been calling for urgent changes to be made to the DWP's safeguarding procedures on the basis that the current policies are unlawful as they fail to adequately protect vulnerable claimants like Errol, but the DWP has repeatedly refused to revise those policies.
“Today's announcement that the procedures have changed is news to us and news to our client. Whilst we cautiously welcome the announcement, it is imperative that the Secretary of State publishes the relevant guidance immediately so that our client and the public can see whether it actually requires decision makers to liaise with different agencies in cases like Errol's and whether enough has been done to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected.”
We will keep readers informed as more information, and hopefully guidance, becomes available.