Trouble at the DWP: shocking, but certainly not a shock
Having worked for many years with claimants who are in receipt of benefits, I was less than surprised to read that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has lost more employment tribunals for disability discrimination than any other employer in Britain since 2016.
BBC Panorama recently revealed that the DWP lost some 17 of the 134 claims arising from discrimination against its own disabled workers over the period 2016–19. Not only was the ratio of cases lost the highest, but the overall numbers of cases were higher than for any other employer. It was also discovered that the DWP had paid out at least £950,000 both in tribunal payments and out of court settlements during that period.
What we’ve seen – the experience of one disabled client
This seems entirely of a piece with the story of one claimant I had the privilege of representing, who used to work at the DWP as a benefits inspector. This courageous family-man carried on working even when his own health was clearly failing, and for far longer than he should have done, and left the DWP’s employment in circumstances which I felt did his employer little credit. Thereafter, despite the fact that the local DWP office knew precisely what his condition was and its severity (in fact this was why they terminated his services), his disability benefits were stopped for an extended period whilst he tried to prove his entitlement to them as required by the Department.
The DWP’s official response to Panorama’s findings (apparently it was “shocked”) seems astonishing. Doesn’t it know how many tribunals it attended and what the results were? If it genuinely didn’t know, then how could it have kept track of the public money it was tasked with spending?
A wider issue of organisational culture?
This story is, depressingly, only one of many which are emerging.
A recent study concluded that there has been a marked rise in cases of mental ill-health linked to the DWP’s implementation of universal credit. In the last month, it was reported that the family of a man who starved to death whilst experiencing problems with his benefits was taking legal action against the DWP.
Separately, one woman who experienced discrimination was awarded £400,000 for the abuse to which she was subjected whilst working at the DWP. The impression is of an organisation that deals harshly with claimants and employees alike, that on occasion condones appalling behaviour, and which is also operating in utter chaos.
How this culture impacts upon our medical negligence and personal injury clients, and what we do to mitigate it
Here we take disability-related matters very seriously and endeavour to provide a holistic service for our disabled clients. We strive to protect the benefits position of our clients, often by placing damages in special trusts that are not assessable by the DWP.
The main aim of this is to ensure that the claimant is not penalised by the DWP because they have received an award for negligent care. Frequently, the damages they receive as a result of a successful claim are needed for very specific purposes such as specially adapted accommodation, equipment and care. This therefore isn’t money that they have as income, but rather funds that are necessary to bring their life back to where it would have been prior to their injury. As a result it would leave them in an unstable financial situation should they not have access to the state benefits they’re eligible for as a result of their disability.
Given the abysmal service the DWP frequently offers to claimants (who are often very vulnerable) and employees alike, I would strongly urge anyone with a potential clinical negligence or personal injury claim to consider using a firm with a strong emphasis upon disability rights.