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30 July 2008
A disabled woman from Sheffield was this week awarded £2,500 by a court because the DWP failed to send her letters in a large enough typeface.

The decision could encourage many more disabled people to bring actions under the disability discrimination act.

Angela Sharrock is registered blind. In 2006 she was one of the thousands of innocent victims of anonymous tip offs to the DWP fraud hotline. As a result she was tailed by an undercover video surveillance team and called in for repeated hostile interviews. In February 2007, following these investigations, Ms Sharrock’s income support was stopped, but with support from a local advice agency she appealed the decision and her benefit was reinstated.

Clearly not one to be cowed by unfair treatment, Ms Sharrock turned the tables on the DWP by taking them to court for breaches of the disability discrimination act. In particular the DWP failed to put letters and legal documents in an accessible format that Ms Sharrock could read, even though their own policies and procedures say they should do so.

Ms Sharrock found being unable to read her own correspondence very upsetting, explaining that:

“I have always been as independent as I can. I feel ashamed when I have to ask for help. Doing something simple like putting my letters in a large print size would make it much easier for me to keep my independence.”

The court accepted that the DWP had breached the DDA and made the award of £2,500 to Ms Sharrock.

The award could have been considerably higher had the claimant been able to have her treatment at fraud interviews also taken into account. According to Douglas Johnson from Sheffield Law Centre, who represented Ms Sharrock:

“She found the investigator to be abusive and to have made inappropriate comments
about her disability. These matters were not taken to court because the relevant legal provision came into force on 4th December 2006, which was after the investigation had taken place. The DWP will have to ensure it complies with these provisions of the DDA in future.”

The case demonstrates that, with the right support, it is possible for claimants to win compensation for unfair treatment by the DWP. Benefits and Work already publishes guides to the DDA and getting fairer treatment from the DWP. We are now investigating the possibility of publishing a DIY guide to suing the department.