Capita have paid ‘substantial’ compensation to the family of Philippa Day, a single parent who took her own life after she was told that she had to attend a face-to-face PIP assessment in spite of her anxiety, depression and agoraphobia and in defiance of pleas by her CPN. It is believed to be the first such payment made by a DWP health assessment provider.
Ever since her death in 2019, Philippa’s family have been fighting to make the DWP and Capita admit their role in her death and to change the way vulnerable claimants are dealt with.
In a call the DWP tried to prevent the coroner making public, a clearly very distressed, sometimes crying, Philippa told a DWP call handler she was “literally starving and cold”, “genuinely can’t survive like this for much longer”, was “in so much debt”, “literally cannot leave the house”, and needed “a reason to live”.
However, the call handler simply asked her if there was anyone in her family or a local charity who could help her and told her that she needed to talk to Capita about when she would have her assessment.
No note was made on Philippa’s file of the level of distress she was in and the DWP’s six-point plan to be used when claimants express suicidal intent was not used.
The call handler told the inquest that she had heard many claimants crying and saying similar things.
Philippa’s family sued both the DWP and Capita for negligence.
Capita have now settled out of court, paying a sum that will provide for Philippa’s son’s upbringing.
Following the settlement, Imogen Day, Philippa’s sister said:
“Our family have always maintained that my sister’s treatment by the Capita, on behalf of the DWP directly impacted her mental state and in the end is the reason for her death.
“Capita’s wall of bureaucracy, with no consideration for Philippa’s mental state, exacerbated her despair at her debt and poverty. She was met with cold, uncaring call operators who would not listen to her cries for help. However we welcome the opportunity to meet with Capita to discuss improvements to their service.”
“This settlement will in some measure provide for Philippa’s family and a materially stable upbringing for Philippa’s son, but he has lost his mother, and there is nothing Capita can do to put right the wrong that contributed to Philippa’s death.”
Leigh Day partner Merry Varney, who represented the family, said:
“Through this settlement, and the public investigation into how the DWP and its agents treated Philippa, a young mother with physical and mental health conditions which led to damning findings by the Coroner, the law has delivered some accountability for and recognition of the wrongs Philippa suffered and the devastating impact on her family.
“Capita has shown acceptance of their failures and a willingness to ensure their mistakes are not repeated, however there remain too many examples of the DWP, which controls the financial circumstances of the majority of people too sick to work, acting inhumanely to those receiving benefits and a continued resistance by the DWP to transparent investigations into benefit related deaths.
“Until the DWP changes its attitude, people like Philippa and her family remain at risk of gross human rights violations and ‘benefit related deaths’ are just another example of preventable deaths of people with disabilities occurring without any proper investigation or scrutiny.”
The DWP have refused to comment on the court case, which is now believed to be closed, but a Capita spokesperson told the Guardian:
“We are very sorry for the mistakes we made in processing Philippa’s personal independence payment (PIP) claim and the additional stress this caused her. In partnership with the DWP, we have considered and reviewed the coroner’s report and we are implementing all the recommendations that are relevant to us.
“Following this incident, we have strengthened our processes and we are working to continuously improve and deliver a professional, efficient and kind service for every PIP applicant we assess.”
The compensation payment is the first of its kind by a health assessment company to a claimant’s family and will no doubt cause major concern both to the DWP and to the assessment providers in case it is the first of many.