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Coroners report - DNS news story

GWRS adviser
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Hi all

I’m sure many of you will have already seen this but thought I would post this here:

http://www.disabilitynewsservice.com/coroners-ground-breaking-verdict-suicide-was-triggered-by-fit-for-work-test/

This comes in light of the issues discussed in these threads:
http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8346/
http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8111/

It’s also worth noting that this has happened before.  A coroner wrote a similar report in 2000 which led to the introduction of safeguards into the benefit system.  The circumstances of that incident are described here: http://www.yorkshireeveningpost.co.uk/news/latest-news/top-stories/election-2015-batley-and-spen-mp-mike-wood-bows-out-1-7249224

In response to that incident safeguards were introduced.  The safeguards were designed to protect people with mental health problems, learning disabilities, or conditions affecting cognition who were unable to cope with the administrative demands of the benefit system.  They would not have helped in this case. 

I would hope that far reaching changes are introduced to address the issues raised in this recent coroners report.

I don’t know much about this topic but it seems that the organisation that receives the coroners report has 56 days in which to reply setting out the actions they will take in response.  It would be interesting to see what the DWP response will be.

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Here is the coroner’s report referred to in the DNS story.  Note that the report names the individual involved and goes into detail about the circumstances.
https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/OSullivan-2014-0012.pdf

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Owen Stevens - 21 September 2015 10:56 AM

... it seems that the organisation that receives the coroners report has 56 days in which to reply setting out the actions they will take in response.  It would be interesting to see what the DWP response will be.

There are some extracts from the DWP’s response to the Coroner in the DNS story.

(NB - the Coroner’s report was dated Jan 2014 - but has only just been unearthed by DNS - and so the 56 days expired c.18 months ago)

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I’ve had a look on the Judiciary website but couldn’t find the DWP response.

Their webpage says that in most cases the response will be published on the Judiciary website and links to the relevant regulations: https://www.judiciary.gov.uk/related-offices-and-bodies/office-chief-coroner/pfd-reports/

Does anyone know where the DWP response is?

edit: looking at other PFDs it seems that responses would be published alongside the report.  So the coroner must have taken the decision not to publish the DWP response.  Or possibly not got around to publishing it yet.

[ Edited: 21 Sep 2015 at 05:52 pm by GWRS adviser ]
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It is being fairly widely reported that there was a 15 or 16 page response issued by the DWP. From The Guardian:

In its 16-page response to the coroner’s report, the DWP admitted it had got it wrong. It said its policy to request further evidence when a claimant mentions suicide on claim forms was “regrettably not followed in this case”.

It said the WCA process remained under “continual review and development”, including through five independent reviews, and concluded: “We have noted the issues in this case and will continue to monitor our policies around assessment of people with mental health problems while we await the outcome of related litigation.”

And from the Mirror:

The DWP replied to the coroner with a 15-page report defending its officials.

It said Mr O’Sullivan claimed jobseekers’ allowance for six months before he ‘unfortunately’ took his own life.

It added: “The fact that he did not incur any sanctions during this period means that he was maintaining his obligations under the jobseeker’s allowance agreement to be both available for and actively seeking employment weekly.”

 

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Refuted have pointed out to me that the DWP response has now been published by the Coroner.

Thanks.

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GWRS adviser
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Thanks Billy

I thought it would be useful to post a few links:

WCA handbook including section on substantial risk - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/408884/WCA_Handbook_Version_7_-_030315.pdf

a Royal College of Psychiatrists document on risk. 
http://rcpsych.ac.uk/pdf/CR150 rethinking risk.pdf

and also the fifth independent review of the WCA which highlights the use of Regulation 35 as a cause for concern rather than good practice - https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/380027/wca-fifth-independent-review.pdf

The 6 point suicidal guidance that DWP say they will reissue to staff can be found on another Rightsnet thread.  I have to say that my impression is that this aims mainly at helping the DWP staff member deal with the situation (which is right and necessary) rather than prompting anyone to look into the case -
http://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8621/

I also have some comments on the section on safeguarding which I will spend some time drafting before posting.

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The DWP have included the section on safeguarding for context as their use would not have changed the outcome of this case.  The safeguards are designed to kick in when a claimant is unable to meet the administrative requirements of claiming benefit.

If the DWP is considering sanctioning an ESA claimant they have to make a home visit each time they are considering not accepting good cause in order to explain the claimants reponsibilities.  The guidance states that a visit will be considered every time the claimant fails to comply with a condition in order to protect claimants with fluctuating conditions.  If the visits to a claimant at risk of sanction are unsuccessful then DWP must notify a third party - the guidance says they have a moral obligation to make organisations aware of potential incidents around vulnerable claimants.

The safeguards for people who have failed to attend a WCA are much weaker because it removes the requirement for a home visit every time DWP are considering good cause.  This means people with fluctuating health conditions are not adequately safeguarded.  It is possible for DWP to refuse to accept good cause for a vulnerable claimant without attempting to visit them at all.  In addition there are no requirements for notifications to third parties (and no recognition that they have any moral obligations to do so).

Universal Credit will further weaken the safeguards, particularly for people who fail to attend the WCA.

Greenwich Welfare Rights Service will be introducing a session on benefit safeguards into our regular training programme in due course.  If people want more info on safeguards then feel free to email.

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Benny Fitzpatrick
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Incompetence or inhumanity? Or a combination of both with arrogance added to the mix?

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Following on from the DWP response to Michael O’Sullivan’s coroner’s report I have attached an FOI response and guidance attached to the response.

The 6 point plan has been around for some time (I have posted it elsewhere on rightsnet).  The 6 point plan does not seem to require a review of the facts of the case or prompt any requests for further evidence.

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