September 8th 2016 John Pring
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has refused to consider an inquiry into its repeated failure to prevent the deaths of benefit claimants, despite the release of damning new information from nine secret reviews.
Key information from reviews into the deaths of nine benefit claimants had been requested by Disability News Service (DNS) in April – following the release of 49 earlier reviews – but DWP has only released it now after pressure from the Information Commissioner’s Office.
Although most of the information from the reviews – previously known as peer reviews but now called internal process reviews – was redacted, DWP did release the authors’ recommendations for how procedures should be improved locally and nationally.
Those recommendations show that DWP staff repeatedly failed to follow strict guidelines on how to support benefit claimants who have expressed thoughts of self-harm or threatened to take their own lives, which were introduced in 2009.
That guidance – known as the six-point plan – “sets out the framework for managing suicide and self harm declarations from customers”.
The plan tells staff to “take the statement seriously”, “summon a colleague”, “gather information”, “provide referral advice – if the situation is non-urgent”, “summon emergency help”, and “review” the incident afterwards with their line manager.
DWP managers are supposed to use this framework to create their own local six point plans.
But the information released to DNS shows that with two of the nine deaths, which were all reviewed between August 2014 and January 2016, the author called for DWP to “remind staff about the Six Point Plan” and pointed out the need to “embed” the plan in DWP procedures because the failure to follow the guidance was “a recurring theme”.
Of the nine reviews, seven of them involved people who had taken their own lives, and five included recommendations for local or national improvements.
Other concerns raised by the reviews include the apparent use of out-of-date information to decide an employment and support allowance (ESA) claim, and benefits staff apparently failing to visit a claimant marked in their files as “vulnerable” who had failed to attend an assessment before their claim was rejected.
As in all nine cases, the claimant lost their life, although no other information is known about the circumstances of their deaths.