Remember the Vox Political Freedom of Information request? The one asking for the number of incapacity benefits claimants who had died between the end of November 2011 and May 28, 2014? The one the DWP claimed to have answered with a ‘statistical release’ on August 27?
The one This Writer proved had answered only those parts of my request that suited the DWP’s own purposes?
Today, I received an email from the Information Commissioner’s solicitor, saying that the Department for Work and Pensions may be able to provide a “substantive” response to queries about the matter by the end of next week. That’s more than 17 months after the original request was submitted! The legal maximum period for a response is 20 working days.
I had written to the Information Commissioner, pointing out that the DWP had not followed the terms of his decision notice but had withdrawn its appeal against that decision. Therefore it must provide all the information – including the full number of people who died after being found fit for work, not just those dying within a two-week period of the end of their claim – or be in contempt of court.
The information about everybody who died after being found fit for work should prove extremely interesting, in the light of a coroner’s finding that a DWP ‘fit for work’ decision directly contributed to the death of Michael O’Sullivan in late 2013. The coroner’s verdict was recorded in January 2014 – more than a year before the DWP started issuing – false – claims that there is no evidence to suggest a causal link between DWP benefit decisions and the deaths of claimants.
So you can see that the DWP is now between a rock and a hard place.
Without any further information from the government department, it is impossible to draw any conclusions. However, since the DWP is saying it needs until early October to provide a response to the Information Commissioner’s queries – let alone my original FoI request, it seems clear that there was never any intention to answer the request in a full and honest manner. It seems that the DWP has instead attempted to answer only those parts of the request that suited its own agenda.
Now that ministers are being made to account for their actions, they are stalling for time. To me, that mitigates very strongly in favour of a finding that the DWP did, indeed contumeliously (it means scornfully and insultingly; insolently) disregard the Information Commissioner’s decision.
That is the current situation. Further updates will appear, as and when appropriate.
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