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An appeal by the Department for Work and Pensions, against being forced to reveal the exact number of people who have died while claiming social security benefits, will be heard by a tribunal in November – if it gets that far.
The DWP appealed to the First-tier Tribunal (Information Rights) on May 28, after the Information Commissioner ruled that it should honour a Freedom of Information (FoI) request by Vox Political writer Mike Sivier. The request demanded the exact number of deaths of people claiming Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance between November 2011 and May 2014.
The Department, currently run by the Conservative Government, initially claimed that the information was due to be published at an unspecified date in the future – but it was later revealed that the facts would be fudged into ‘Age-Standardised Mortality Rates’, presenting the deaths as a ratio compared with the population as a whole. So the initial claim was a lie and the plan was not to provide the information at all.
According to the government, these fudged figures are being rushed into publication on August 27, so we will all be able to see whether they are any use, in good time before any hearing takes place.
The Information Tribunal has now set down the date on which it will hear evidence. This will happen on November 10, at a location in central London. Make a note of it in your diary if you are interested in attending.
A new development from the DWP, as part of the appeal, is an attempt to persuade the tribunal to use its ‘steps discretion’ if it rules against the government department.
The law allows the tribunal to dictate any steps necessary to honour a FoI request – and the DWP is asking for a ruling that, even if it is found to be breaking the law by refusing to publish the requested information, no steps should be taken to provide it.
The Conservative Government debases itself by falling to such depths. Not only that, but the attempt is likely to fail; the ‘steps discretion’ is only used in extraordinary circumstances and there are none in this case.
Furthermore, the tactic may become irrelevant if This Writer is successful in his bid for the Tribunal to strike out the case as an abuse of process. My claim is that the law is clearly against the DWP – it has a less-than-50-per-cent chance of success – so the appeal is a waste of the Tribunal’s time.
If the Tribunal agrees, then the DWP’s appeal will be cancelled and the Department will be ordered to provide the information immediately.
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