The DWP failed to make any checks before they cut off payments to a 38 year old claimant who subsequently died and was left undiscovered in her flat for more than three years, a pre-inquest hearing has been told.
Laura Winham had schizophrenia and had been sectioned under the Mental Health Act in the past. Her family were no longer able to have contact with her because, as a result of her condition, she believed that they were trying to harm her.
Because of this, Laura was entirely dependent on her social housing provider and other welfare services to ensure her safety.
In 2014, Laura’s housing association contacted local mental health services to say that she had “untreated mental health issues” and was very thin and isolated. No action was taken.
In 2016, the DWP contacted Laura to say that she was being transferred from DLA to PIP and that she had to apply for PIP or her DLA would stop.
Laura failed to respond and, after several written reminders, her DLA was stopped. In spite of Laura having a severe mental illness and very clearly being a vulnerable person, no attempt was made by the DWP to check on her wellbeing or her ability to take part in the transfer process before her money was cut off.
Lauras gas was subsequently disconnected for failure to pay the bill.
Police visited the flat over a minor issue in 2017 and reported to social services that she was neglecting herself, had little food, no working phone and no contact with local care agencies.
Social services subsequently tried to phone Laura, even though they had been told there was no working phone, and then simply sent her a list of local food banks.
In May 2021, Laura’s body was discovered after her family visited to tell her of the death of her father and looked through the letterbox. The police found her mummified and skeletal body when they forced entry. There were unopened bills from creditors and markings on the calendar which stopped in November 2017.
One of the last ones read “I need help”.
Laura’s family say that all the services that were involved in Laura’s case let her down:
“Everybody who was in contact with Laura and had a duty to her at some stage simply wiped their hands of her and forgot her. She was abandoned and left to die.”
They say they are sharing their story “because we do not want any other families to suffer in this way.”
The DWP were far from the only agency that let Laura down. But they are an extremely large, well-resourced agency with no excuse for cutting off a vulnerable claimant’s money simply because they were unable to manage a transfer process aimed at reducing the benefits bill.
The cut in income almost certainly contributed to Laura’s isolation through the loss of her phone and increased her difficulties with self-care because she could not pay for basic necessities such as gas.
No doubt the DWP will claim that systems have now been put in place to ensure that such a tragedy could never occur again. Claimants who depend on he DWP will know that nothing could be further from the truth.
Laura’s inquest is being held in April.
You can read the full story in the Guardian.