Information Commissioner abandons pursuit of DWP over benefit-related deaths



It seems it is easier to adopt the DWP’s misinterpretation of the words in my Freedom of Information request about the number of benefit-related deaths than it is to get answers.

This Writer received an email today from the Information Commissioner’s solicitor, regarding my request that the Department for Work and Pensions should be charged with contempt of court for failing to answer my request adequately, after being ordered to do so by the Commissioner.

The sticking-point was the part of my request that states: “Please provide the number of Incapacity Benefit and Employment and Support Allowance claimants who have died since November 2011.” You know – the very first bit.

My position was that the DWP’s responses, provided from August 27 onwards, related only to those individuals who had died within an extremely limited period of time after the decision was made and their claim was ended – which was not what I had requested.

The request clearly relates to everybody who has claimed the benefits at any time since November 2011. It was phrased in that way, in order to ensure that people like Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré – all of whom had been in receipt of benefits, but these claims had been terminated by the DWP a significant time before they took their own lives. Coroners have blamed the DWP for all three deaths.

So there is a strong precedent for believing that other people may also have died, several weeks or months after being deprived of their benefit. The request took this into account and demanded full disclosure of the figures.

“The DWP’s view is that it has provided information in relation to any individuals who were in receipt of IB or ESA at the time of their death and that anyone not in receipt of either benefit when they died cannot be considered an IB/ESA ‘claimant’. As such, those individuals would not fall within the scope of your request,” is what I read today.

“Information requests are treated and dealt with on the plain meaning of the words used in the request rather than a requester’s underlying intention. I consider that the DWP’s interpretation of your request is an objectively reasonable interpretation of the wording of your request, albeit that it may not be the only interpretation.

“Whilst I anticipate that you may disagree with the DWP’s interpretation of your request, on the facts before me, I am of the view that the Commissioner will be unable to issue a certificate in this case. Accordingly, the Commissioner will not be taking any enforcement action under section 54 of the Act.

“It does, of course, remain open to you to make a new request to the DWP for any further information you may seek.”

Here’s my response, for the record:

“Of course, as people who die after their claims are closed with a ‘fit for work’ decision had been IB/ESA claimants, and were only not such claimants because they have been thrown off the benefit against their will, any death after they have lost the benefit may be deemed to be as a result of the DWP wrongly having removed it – as has happened in several high-profile cases publicised in the national press in recent months (partly as a result of my Freedom of Information request).

“You will – or should – be aware that the deaths of Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré  have all been attributed by coroners to the DWP’s closure of their benefit claim, even though the deaths occurred weeks and months later. My understanding is that the coroners’ findings have legal weight. Therefore the DWP’s position, as related in your email, is wrong; their status at the time of their deaths was not relevant – it was enough that they had been benefit claimants.

“Allowing the DWP to avoid scrutiny over the many other possible deaths which may have taken place in the same, or similar, circumstances is certainly a betrayal of the memories of those for whose deaths the Department has already been found guilty – especially as it hangs on your, and their, choice to misinterpret my words in an arbitrary way that benefits the Department rather than those it is still nominally supposed to serve.

“How many other people have died after having had their benefits cut off, in similar circumstances to Michael O’Sullivan, Julia Kelly and Stephen Carré? If you choose to close this matter, based on a misinterpretation of my request, the answer may never be known and the Department will, of course, escape justice.

“Are you happy to have those deaths on your conscience?

“Is the Commissioner?

“Bear in mind that other efforts will be made to find out how many people have died in this way. Once those numbers are known, any complicity in hiding them – by you and the Commissioner, must also be examined.”

The suggestion that I should make another FOI request is – as those of you who are familiar with this affair will know – unpalatable.

However, one possibility may be that I ask for all available figures relating to people who have died at any time after their benefits were terminated by the DWP, within a period spanning, say, January 2011 to the present day. In the same request I could add that, if that proves impossible on cost grounds, then I would like the relevant numbers for a single specified month within that time period.

I suspect that the DWP would refuse my request on the grounds that it doesn’t hold the information, but that presents another opportunity for criticism, as I am told the Department carries out follow-up interviews on claimants who have been sanctioned, in order to ascertain how they have survived during the period of their sanction. This clearly suggests an expectation that people would not be able to manage. In that case, if the DWP didn’t follow up the cases of anyone thrown off-benefit, doesn’t that indicate an intent that those people should die?

These are just initial thoughts; your observations are invited.

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23 thoughts on “Information Commissioner abandons pursuit of DWP over benefit-related deaths

  1. Stephen Bee

    Gutted for you MIke…but admire your tenacity. Whats that phrase? “Evil prevails when Good men….etc” Tho I am of the opinion after the syria vote tonight and what may occur in the weeks and months ahead…we are heading to a tipping point..when retribution occurs and justice is seen to be done. Hold the faith!

  2. Phil Lee

    It seems to me that the Information Commissioner’s solicitor has been got at by the DWP’s solicitor, or some other representative of that criminal enterprise.
    Maybe worth a complaint to their professional body?

  3. Mr.Angry

    Mike I understand how you must feel, sadly those running the country are a dangerous group masked in secrecy with the right handshake and believe me everything they do will be brushed aside in their favour.

    Look for example Blair and Iraq, how can the Chilcot inquiry take so long ?? How can the sex scandal involving prominent MP’s etc be side stepped, simply as they pull the strings.

    I think your response from the commissioner is totally unacceptable and their request to make another FOI request, well that says it all.

      1. Dez

        The road may be long and daunting peppered with usual DWP land mines,corruption and set backs but much better for having started the journey than not started at all. They must not be allowed to get away with their behaviour causing deaths without judgement for their actions.

  4. Jeffery Davies

    I wish I wasnt right but getting the true figures of deaths of these lying gits is case of no action from any body who there to keep em in line sadly its way to many have died through this abuse jeff3

  5. Jonno R

    The information commissioner is based in Wimslow, a part of cheshire occupied by the rich and famous. It is unaffected by austerity and the commissioner is happy to keep his hands clean by refusing to acknowledge any corruption or wrongdoing.
    I was the victim of a violent assault by a staff member of Sourhwark council who was trying to prevent me from getting evidence of the corruption and racism at the housing offices. The ICO issued a letter demanding that the CCTV images of the attack be made available to me as agreed with southwark councils information officer the day after the even. Sourhwark responded by saying “we have destroyed the images, we realise this is unnaceptable.” The ICO said I should take the matter up with the local government ombudsman but the LGO had already refused to investigate this and has referred me to the ICO. I sent a copy of the letters to both offices and asked them to sort out between them who is responsible for dealing with wilful destruction of data to avoid prosecution and then let me know. I have received no reply from either office.
    This is a known issue that is used to escape accountability by many authorities and services. I had a very bad day a few years ago when a Rottweiler attacked me as I exited s shop involving many services who all made mistakes. The police failed to make a report and gave my name and address to the dogs owner because they couldn’t be bothered to wait for the dog team but the details of the dogs owner were false, the ambulance crew identified a heart problem which became the main concern but the hospital discharged me wthhout examining my heart and providing assistance in getting me home as agreed. I suffered a stroke in the hospital corridor. The hospital claimed to have lost my notes and ambulance slip and none of the staff remembered me although they remembered filling in the notes. I requested a copy of the ambulance slip and was asked if I would wait 6 weeks for a response which was “after 6 weeks we can destroy the ambulance copy of the notes which we have done”

    The NHS ombudsman were appalling and my case was investigated by an idiot who said “if you were exhausted by the walk to the exit you should have returned to the a&e dept to ask for help” and after explaining that the exit corridor was deserted, ” when you had passed out you should have asked a staff member to assist you”v He also said that missing essential medication because of the delay did not matter because he had read about drug half life despite the hospitals specialist saying that it is essential that they are taken on time and in future a&e staff would be made aware of this.
    So the ICO and the local and NHS ombudsmen are no more than a veneer of assurance that authorities have checks and ballances to ensure they are effective. The truth is that they are led by the targets they are given and cherry pick the cases and produce outcomes they require to hit the targets.
    My complaints were upheld by the ombudsman and IPCC but on trivial errors of process while the main issues were ignored. My life and health was wrecked and I lost my home but all I got was an appology
    Being left homeless and vulnerable gave the DWP the chance to put the boot in and they managed to take my pension from me and also take my DLA and Motability car which I had before the dog attack, then cancelled my incapacity benefit and income support then put me to forced labour and inundated me with paperwork in An attempt to work me 24/7 and starve me to death. 3 years later they are still at it relentlessly and now they are trying to encourage me to commit crime. They ignored the outcome of the first teir tribunal judge and independent case examiners who found in my favour and cancelled my benefits and demanded I pay some back even though the judge specifically said this would not happen.
    This is why frustration and feeling helpless leads to suicide. Your life is taken from you anyway as you can no longer take part in normal activities as the kilos of paperwork pile up and take it over.
    My life experience now is hunger, cold, paperwork and exhaustion. As I deteriorate (recently diagnosed with dementia) the DWP step up the attack and the effects of abuse is made worse by law centres and CAB who only offer help to people who can walk to offices and fight to keep a place in the queues.

    1. Brian

      Dereliction of duty…Perverting the course of justice…Harassment….Tampering with evidence…Fraud….Using a false instrument to gain a pecuniary advantage….Failing in one’s duty to protect the public…

      The public would benefit from a solid prosecution of a Authoritative Department, to illuminate to them that there are consequences to their manipulation of the systems placed to safeguard us against such abuse.

  6. Barry Davies

    I would like to say that I find it surprising that this answer was given but I am not at all surprised. the problem with suggesting one month is that even if they did give you the figure they would no doubt go throughout the entire period and only present the month with the least number or even nil deaths and extrapolate that to the entire period.

  7. JL

    you need to correlate the benefit and the timelines because of the changes and work out your own figures. These departments also deploy critical thinking as a communication strategy so need to get past that too. eg the ICO did not request x so it is not necessary to represent the data of y. lots of negative representation instead of information. BS filler.

  8. Dez

    Your campaign, whilst suffering the frustrations of dealing with a less than truthful and devious government department DWP, at least had the fall back position that there was still one Government department that had the independance, integrity and backbone ie the Information Commissioners Office. Your sharing their latest response, and lack of appetite to get a fellow Governments house into order, is deeply disappointing and leads me to conclude they are basically now joined at the hip, singing the Governments tune. FOI is being slowly taken out of service as being too uncomfortable to continue to be allowed to exist. A very sad day for freedom and democracy.

  9. che

    After reading this and Camorons sickening behaviour yesterday I shudder as the grip of a nazi dictatorship tightens. I shudder to think what state this Country will be in in 2020

  10. Lil

    Maybe a lot of us should submit the very same request? And specify ‘from 1 January 2011 to 31 December 2015, broken down by calendar month’. That’s specific enough that they can’t claim they are confused or unaware of what you want. As an ex-civil servant who used to have to look out info for FOI requests, I’d say that’s less likely to be refused on grounds of not being specific enough.

  11. rockingbass

    Oh Mike,
    I am not surprised….you were so near getting to the truth.and it is so damaging to the Government that is why the commissioner has been told at the very highest level to refuse your very clear request.I like your reasonable reply….all the best

  12. simplyradical

    I don’t understand why one of us couldn’t resubmit the request worded in such a way that there’s absolutely no way it can be misinterpreted. We shouldn’t give up on this

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