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The callousness of Iain Duncan Smith’s Department for Work and Pensions hit a new low this week when it was revealed that officials have been asking terminally ill benefit claimants when they expect to die – including those who don’t know death is inevitable.

Frank Field, the new chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, started his tenure incisively when he demanded an explanation from the Gentleman Ranker.

He said he had seen evidence of two such cases in his own constituency and added “I dread to think how often this is happening around the country.”

The DWP’s response – not Duncan Smith’s; he’s nowhere in sight – has been to deny everything (of course): “Claims from people with a terminal illness are fast-tracked using ‘special rules’, where we pay the highest rate of care immediately without a face-to-face assessment.

“All claims are dealt with fairly, sensitively and compassionately by specially trained staff – they do not ask specifics around life expectancy.”

It just doesn’t ring true, does it?

Here’s the background information, courtesy of The Guardian: Individuals claiming for a personal independence payment (PIP) under the “special rules terminally ill” procedure submit DS 1500 forms signed by their doctor – forms that need to be signed if the patient is regarded as suffering from a terminal illness.

“The DS 1500 asks for factual information and does not require the doctor to give a prognosis. It should contain details of the diagnosis, including whether the patient is aware of their condition and, if unaware, the name and address of the patient’s representative.

“It should also set out the current and proposed treatment, and brief details of clinical findings. A doctor is expected to believe that the patient is likely to die within six months, but once the form is submitted the Department for Work and Pensions decision-makers are not expected to challenge a patient about the expected date of death, or question a patient who is not aware the doctor has declared their illness to be terminal.

“The claimant, once found by the doctor to be terminally ill, is not supposed to meet any qualifying period for a claim”, and should get the highest rate of payment.

Clearly, if the DWP is questioning people in the date they expect to be dead, this may include those who have not been told they are going to die.

“In one case my constituent’s mother was asked by when she expected her daughter to die and in front of her daughter,” said Mr Field.

“This has left my constituents feeling understandably very upset. They tell me they are appalled by the hardness of the questioning and its intrusiveness.”

He has demanded a copy of the guidance that could have led PIP assessors to think this line of questioning was legitimate.

This Writer thinks he may be in for a long wait.

Is this yet another example of the DWP’s secret ‘chequebook euthanasia’ policy – asking questions that ‘nudge’ claimants towards death in order to clear them off the books sooner and make an early benefit saving?

Follow me on Twitter: @MidWalesMike

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