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I have just sent out a ‘diary marker’ to press organisations, notifying them of the Information Tribunal that will be held in Cardiff next week.

Inevitably, there will be organisations I have missed – and I also want as much of the social media as possible to be aware of this and to be spreading the word. For that reason, I’m publishing the text of the press release below.

If you have a Facebook page, blog site, Twitter account or whatever, please feel free to use what follows and make sure people know that this is going on.

Diary marker

Tribunal – Law Courts, Cathays Park, Cardiff, April 23, 2014 at 10am

Incapacity benefits – deaths of claimants

A tribunal will decide whether the Department for Work and Pensions should be ordered to release its statistics on the number of people who have died while claiming Incapacity Benefit or Employment and Support Allowance, at a hearing next week.

The First-Tier Tribunal (formerly the Information Tribunal) will be hearing an appeal by Vox Political blogger Mike Sivier, against a decision by the Information Commissioner and the DWP to refuse a Freedom of Information request on the subject.

The DWP published an ‘ad hoc statistical release’ in July 2012, showing that 10,600 claimants died between January and November 2011. Of these, 3,500 – or 73 people every week – were either going through the assessment process or had been put in the work-related activity group, intended for people who were expected to recover within a year, when they died.

The revelation provoked outcry from people suffering from disabilities and long-term illnesses, and seems to have discouraged the DWP from continuing to publish the figures.

Mr Sivier made his request in June 2013, after learning that the DWP had refused previous requests. The department at first claimed there was no intention to release any further statistics, and the information would take a great deal of time and effort to gather and collate – this is not true. In fact, the DWP later admitted that it does hold the information, and could provide it within the cost limit.

The next excuse was that the Secretary of State, Iain Duncan Smith, accepted that there was interest in the figures and was considering how to publish them. This was claimed in August 2013. Since no plan to publish these time-sensitive figures after nearly nine months, we must conclude that, like the previous claim, it is not true. The figures are time-sensitive because it is important that the system be improved to prevent unnecessary deaths. Delays in publication mean the figures are unlikely to be used in that way.

Seeing that the DWP had brushed aside privately-made requests, Mr Sivier ensured that his was public knowledge by writing an article about it in his blog (at http://voxpoliticalonline.com/2013/06/25/dwp-refuses-to-provide-information-on-esaib-deaths-what-is-it-hiding/). As an afterthought, he included a line encouraging readers to follow his example, if they believed the issue was important, reasoning that the DWP may give more weight to it if it was known that there was general concern.

The DWP refused the request, claiming it was “vexatious” under section 14(1) of the Freedom of Information Act 2000. Officers had visited the blog and concluded that the last line, “I strongly urge you to do the same. There is strength in numbers,” constituted a co-ordinated campaign of harassment against the department.

Mr Sivier believes this is nonsense and appealed to the Information Commissioner on this basis. But the Commissioner was persuaded by the DWP and upheld the decision, forcing Mr Sivier to take the matter to the tribunal.

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