The High Court has rejected the claim by relatives of Errol Graham, who starved to death after his benefits were stopped, that the DWP’s safeguarding policies were unlawful.
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 wellbeing, even though he was known to have serious mental health issues.
Because the DWP had tried, but failed, to contact Graham their action in stopping his benefits were in line with their safeguarding policies at the time.
However, at Graham’s inquest the DWP gave an undertaking to look again at their policies and change them, something which they did not then do.
But, before the case came before the court the DWP did finally improve their policies, adding in a requirement to carry out an additional visit before ending a claim for a vulnerable person and referring the matter to a case conference where the visit is unsuccessful.
In the High Court, Errol Graham’s family argued that the new safeguarding policies were still unlawful. The main ground for this argument was that the burden of proof for showing good cause for failing to attend an assessment is still placed on the claimant, even though they may be vulnerable and their mental health may prevent them from meeting such a requirement.
However, the judge held that with 1.9 million ESA claimants, the system would be unworkable if the burden of prof were placed on the DWP.
He also found that the DWP has a duty to make the necessary inquiries to find out whether any illness or disability of a claimant does in fact provide "good cause" and that the DWP had discharged its duty in this case.
Errol’s family say they are shocked by the ruling and may now appeal further. His son’s fiancée said:
"The fight's not over. If the law can put people like Errol in this position, then I need to ask - should I challenge the law?
"We need a change that will protect people like Errol and this judgement is not good enough."