The Department for Work and Pensions has quietly changed its rules on stopping benefits of vulnerable claimants – after relatives of a man who died of starvation won the right to have a judicial review.
Relatives of Errol Graham were granted permission for a judicial review of DWP policies after the department failed to review and revise them itself, following his death.
The DWP ignored its own safeguarding advice to deprive Errol Graham of his benefits, This Site reported previously.
Left with no income, Mr Graham starved to death.
He had been receiving incapacity benefit, and then ESA, for many years as a result of enduring mental distress that had led to him being sectioned.
The DWP stopped Mr Graham’s Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) entitlement – and backdated that decision to the previous month – after making two unsuccessful visits to his home to ask why he had not attended a face-to-face Work Capability Assessment (WCA) on August 31, 2017.
He had not been asked to fill in an ESA50 questionnaire, though.
The government department managed to stop an ESA payment that had been due to be credited to his bank account on October 17, the same day it made the second unsuccessful safeguarding visit.
Its own rules state that it should have made both safeguarding visits before stopping the benefits of a vulnerable claimant.
Not only that, but the DWP had needed – but failed – to seek further medical evidence from Mr Graham’s GP, in order to make an informed decision about him.
In fact, it seems this would not have made much difference as Mr Graham’s GP had not seen him since 2013, or recalled him for vital blood tests or issued prescriptions since 2015, despite medical conditions including significant, long-term mental distress and hypothyroidism.
Because he had lost his entitlement to ESA, Mr Graham’s housing benefit was also stopped.
When bailiffs knocked down his front door to evict him on June 20, 2018, they found a dead body that weighed just four and a half stone. The only food in the flat was a couple of out-of-date tins of fish.
Mr Graham was 57 years old.
Solicitors Leigh Day, acting for Mr Graham’s family, revealed they had won the right to have a judicial review last week.
And on Tuesday – the day before Parliament rose for the summer recess – the DWP told Parliament’s Work and Pensions committee that it had changed the rules.
Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield said: “If we tried all of that [contacting the claimant by phone and carrying out two safeguarding visits] we would then take that back and have a case conference about the individual and particularly, obviously if it’s someone with vulnerabilities that we know about, then we would seek to involve other organisations that might have a different way of knowing about that individual.
“And then we would seek to understand what do they know about that individual and how can we support them.
“And if that fails that could then be escalated to the safeguarding leads. And in that way basically what we’d seek to do is provide support not removal of benefits.”
Do you believe that?
Tessa Gregory of Leigh Day seems sceptical, still: “Today’s announcement that the procedures have changed is news to us and news to our client.
“Whilst we cautiously welcome the announcement, it is imperative that the Secretary of State publishes the relevant guidance immediately so that our client and the public can see whether it actually requires decision makers to liaise with different agencies in cases like Errol’s and whether enough has been done to ensure that the vulnerable are adequately protected.”
This Writer thinks the best way to achieve that aim is to go ahead with the judicial review. Why were these changes only brought in when the Tory government was facing humiliation in court?
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