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Benefit Safeguards - policy issues

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Owen_Stevens
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I’ve picked out a few sections from this debate - Debbie Abrahams’ reaction to the NAO report and some of the more interesting sections from Justin Tomlinson

https://hansard.parliament.uk/Commons/2020-02-24/debates/87FD9D79-2915-41E2-B2C6-9CC5853D6F19/SocialSecurityBenefitsClaimantDeaths

Debbie Abrahams -

More recently, as my right hon. Friend the Member for East Ham (Stephen Timms) mentioned, on 7 February 2020, following a request from the former Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, the NAO published a briefing report setting out the findings of its inquiries with the Department on the information it holds on benefit claimants who ended their life by suicide.

The NAO found:

“The Department has received nine contacts from coroners via its official coroner focal point relating to suicide since March 2016…received four Prevention of Future Death (PFD) reports from coroners since 2013, of which two were related to suicide…investigated 69 suicides of benefit claimants since 2014-15… It is highly unlikely that the 69 cases the Department has investigated represents the number of cases it could have investigated in the past six years”.

In other words, this is just the tip of the iceberg. We do not even know the actual number of people who have taken their own life as a result of what they went through.

The report continues:

“The Department does not have a robust record of all contact from coroners.”

How can that be? This is a Government Department, for heaven’s sake.

“The Department accepts that not all its staff are aware of the IPR guidance.”

What is the point of doing them if they are not aware?

“We also found that the Department’s guidance does not necessarily reflect the full scope of issues that could trigger an IPR.”

That just beggars belief. The report continues:

“the Department told us that there is no tracking or monitoring of the status of these recommendations. As a result, the Department does not know whether the suggested improvements are implemented.”

Do Ministers not feel ashamed? The report also said that

“the Department does not categorise IPR outputs to identify larger trends or themes from within the outputs, and so systemic issues which might be brought to light through these reviews could be missed.”

The NAO report found similar conclusions to those found by the Select Committee five years earlier: that lessons have not been learned. This is absolutely damning.

Justin Tomlinson -

I am conscious that reference has been made in interventions and speeches to the very important work of the NAO. It has produced a note relating to the DWP and the information held on deaths by suicide of benefit claimants. The Department rightly fully co-operated with the NAO during the creation of this new note, also providing a summary of how we were already working to improve processes in a number of areas. For instance, in 2016 the Department set up the coroners focal point, and is now working to improve it by developing better communication between DWP and the coroner’s office. That includes informing the coroner of the circumstances in which they should report a death to the Department.

The Department is also carrying out a review focusing on strengthening the internal process review processes and the Department’s response to serious cases and suicides. We are clarifying the circumstances in which the DWP should carry out an IPR and improving our internal guidance and communication to ensure that all colleagues are aware of and understand the processes for reporting a suicide. It is important to note that the IPRs look in detail at specific claimant cases that often contain information that is very sensitive and should thus be treated with care. Via the coroner, the families of deceased claimants are able to access information from IPRs; if they then choose to release that information, that is their choice, but as a Department it would be inappropriate to comment on the findings of individual case reviews as it is their private information. We are strengthening the analysis of IPR reports and recommendations to ensure that the Department is aware of any systematic themes and issues and is able to act and put in place effective corresponding improvements.

We are also developing a centralised customer experienced team to co-ordinate all improvement activity, including monitoring the occurrence of issues and delivery of improvements to reduce the risk of issues occurring again. The team will provide a centralised point to support local and regional customer case reviews to identify and act on systematic issues.

We have developed the serious case panel, which will consider the most serious systematic issues that have been identified. That will enable the Department to learn from the issues experienced by ensuring that there is a forum to make recommendations for improvements across the Department as necessary. I know that the Secretary of State personally takes that very seriously. Going forward, the serious case panel will meet quarterly and any recommendations from it will be taken forward by senior members of the Department to ensure that when an issue has been identified, we will learn and take appropriate action.

Justin Tomlinson -

We are doing everything that we possibly can. There is still more to learn and later this year we will have an opportunity through the Green Paper, which will look at claimant experiece, assessment and trust in the system. The national disability strategy, which is personally supported by the Prime Minister, will also help.

[ Edited: 25 Feb 2020 at 10:49 am by Owen_Stevens ]
Owen_Stevens
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Shawn has posted here: https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/forums/viewthread/8346/P60/#74121

shawn mach - 27 February 2020 03:44 PM

From the Guardian:

Errol Graham, a desperately ill man who died of starvation when his benefits were cut off, wrote a moving letter pleading with welfare officials to “judge me fairly” because he was overwhelmed by depression.

The handwritten letter, seen by the Guardian, was released by Graham’s family as they launched a legal attempt to prove that the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) acted unlawfully and put him at risk by failing to put in place effective safeguards to protect vulnerable benefit claimants.

https://www.theguardian.com/society/2020/feb/27/errol-graham-man-starved-death-benefits-cut-letter-welfare-officials

From Leigh Day:

Alison Turner, partner of Errol’s son, has sent a pre-action protocol letter to the DWP arguing that their systems and procedures regarding the termination of benefits for someone in Errol’s circumstances, and the decisions in his particular case, were unlawful. She also argues that the secretive investigations and reviews being conducted by the DWP into benefit-related deaths are unlawful and must be reformed.

https://www.leighday.co.uk/News/Press-releases-2020/February-2020/Family-of-Errol-Graham-launch-legal-action-against

 

Owen_Stevens
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Hello all

Information about the benefit safeguards review following the death of Errol Graham

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Owen_Stevens
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Secretary of State has responded to Stephen Timms’ letter regarding the recent NAO report

https://www.rightsnet.org.uk/welfare-rights/news/item/secretary-of-state-confirms-36-million-funding-for-dwp-excellence-plan-to-increase-investment-in-safeguarding

[ Edited: 27 Mar 2020 at 02:46 pm by Owen_Stevens ]
Owen_Stevens
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Following the ICE report which included a foreword indicating that DWP was taking action on benefit safeguards I made an FOI request to find out more.  The request resulted in the attached ICO report.

The response by the Information Commissioner’s Office includes the following:

- Apparent confirmation that these concerns from ICE arose following an ICE report into Jodey Whiting’s death

- The meetings at which ICE was reassured that action was being taken to make sure that vulnerability safeguards work effectively were ‘not meetings for which there was an agenda, papers or a required outcome or outputs’

- The ICO stated ‘that it is somewhat surprising that the ICE would make a statement that DWP is taking steps to protect its vulnerable claimants without any documentation to support this statement. The Commissioner considers it unsatisfactory that the ICE and DWP are unable to provide any recorded evidence of discussions which were used as evidence in the ICE annual report.’

- The ICO report goes on to state: ‘The Commissioner notes that in the ICE’s statement in relation to this, Ms Wallace states that her statement in the annual report is her personal opinion based on the discussions with DWP Directors. The Commissioner respectfully disagrees that this statement is simply a personal opinion or view, the statement formed part of the ICE’s annual report and Ms Wallace provided an opinion in her capacity as ICE. The Commissioner therefore considers that this comprises her professional opinion on the sensitive and important issue of safeguarding vulnerable individuals using DWP’s services. The Commissioner therefore considers that it shows a disregard for good records management to include a statement on DWP’s steps to ensure its safeguarding procedures without any documentation to support such a statement.’

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Very persistent Owen - shocking that ICE made such unsubstantiated comments

Owen_Stevens
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nevip
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Owen_Stevens
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Rightsnet news story that the recent Touchbase includes the following:

Touchbase -

As part of the DWP’s commitment to safeguarding customers during COVID-19, 10 regional Senior Safeguarding Leader roles have been introduced.

The roles will be in place for three months initially and will act as an escalation point when a solution cannot be found locally. They do not replace existing routes into DWP where there is concern about a customer.

As active members of multi-agency boards in their regions, they will work with partners to find resolutions for customers at risk and take forward any service design or policy issues.

For details of your local Safeguarding Leader please email DWP Customer Safeguarding Team.

The description of these Regional Safeguarding Leader roles bears some similarity to the description of the 37 Safeguarding Leader roles in Therese Coffey’s letter of 20/03/2020 which included the following:

Therese Coffey -

Recruitment is under way to recruit 37 Safeguarding Leaders across the country to act for DWP across all service lines and provide active participation on multi-agency boards to ensure all stakeholders are clear on DWP’s role and accountabilities, how we can support vulnerable customers, and to look for opportunities to create a collaborative approach across each geographical area.

[ Edited: 18 May 2020 at 11:19 am by Owen_Stevens ]

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Owen_Stevens
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Owen_Stevens
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Some interesting stuff on identification of vulnerable UC claimants in today’s NAO report, I’ve picked out some extracts here:

22 The Department does not have all the information it needs to track vulnerable claimants and ensure its support is effective. The Department provides a range of support for vulnerable claimants, particularly at local level, and staff can make notes on individual claims. However, it does not use data ‘flags’ or markers to highlight claimants’ vulnerabilities or complex needs within the Universal Credit digital system. This means it cannot produce national-level management information on vulnerable claimants, and its front-line staff cannot use data within the system to easily identify all those people who might struggle with the process. Nor can the Department currently track within its systems all claimants that may have accessed the Help to Claim service, particularly where these claimants are not referred directly by the Department. As such, it lacks a complete picture of who is accessing this support and how it affects outcomes, including payment timeliness. We also found that the Department’s data on claimants’ diversity characteristics are incomplete. For example, it does not have sufficient data on areas such as claimants’ ethnicity to carry out meaningful analysis on whether particular groups are more likely to be paid late (see paragraphs 2.14 and 2.15, 3.15 and Figure11)
[...]
26Our recommendations are designed to help the Department and other organisations support claimants as effectively as possible through the process of getting to their first Universal Credit payment. Some of these recommendations address how the Department engages with and supports vulnerable people and those with complex claims. The Department will need to work with organisations that support claimants, such as local authorities, charities and housing associations to implement these recommendations effectively. The Department should:
a) work in partnership with organisations that support Universal Credit claimants to:
• develop a more evidence-based understanding of why some people delay their claim for Universal Credit;
• develop communications and other proposals to encourage people to claim earlier when it is in their interest to do so;
• develop a better data-based understanding of the numbers of vulnerable claimants – and any direct or indirect diversity impact of its payment performance – and use this to support the needs of people who continue to struggle with making a claim for Universal Credit; and
• deliver significant improvements in the clarity of its claimant communications, ensuring these are clear, appropriately tailored, and contain all necessary information.
b) […]
c) prioritise improvements to the Universal Credit digital system to help front-line staff identify and support claimants who need more help;
[…]

2.15 The Department has less data on other claimant characteristics, which limits its ability to assess any direct or indirect diversity impacts of late payments. For example, it does not collect data on specific claimant vulnerabilities, such as how many people have mental health issues, or literacy or language comprehension problems. It does collect some data on ethnicity through an equality questionnaire, but only 50% of claimants complete this. At the time of our fieldwork, an issue with the Universal Credit IT system meant that it held only 40% ethnicity data for people who had made new claims since January 2017.
[...]
3.7 Stakeholders told us that people who experience delays may be more vulnerable and therefore may suffer a more significant impact from having their payment delayed. This may be because they struggle with the digital aspects of Universal Credit or to keep appointments. Vulnerable people include those with: physical or mental disabilities; literacy issues; limited English-language proficiency; digital illiteracy or digital access issues; or chaotic lives. Stakeholders also acknowledged that people with comparatively simple cases, such as single people, those working but on a low income and those who are digitally literate, find the Universal Credit process relatively simple.
3.8 Given the challenges some vulnerable groups are likely to face, it is important that the Department communicates with claimants clearly. The Department’s communication was not always tailored to the claimant in the cases we reviewed (Figure 13). Some claimants clearly struggled to understand their entitlement or what the Department was requesting, but the Department did not adapt its language accordingly. The Department’s own survey of Universal Credit claimants found that only 48% of claimants felt they were made aware of all the main requirements when they first made their claim.
[...]

3.15 More broadly, although the Department provides a range of support for vulnerable claimants, it does not use data ‘flags’ to record claimants’ vulnerabilities or complex needs within the Universal Credit digital system. The Department’s staff use a range of resources to support vulnerable claimants. For example, local jobcentres maintain a complex needs plan to help work coaches signpost claimants to relevant support. Staff can also use ‘pinned notes’ in the Universal Credit digital claim system to highlight people’s vulnerabilities. However, the Department cannot currently use these mechanisms to produce consistent, national-level management information on vulnerable claimants, nor can front-line staff use the information within the system to easily identify all the vulnerable people they are working with. We have observed jobcentre staff manually recording claimants’ complex needs to enable them to offer targeted support, indicating that there is demand from the Department’s front line staff for this type of information.
https://www.nao.org.uk/report/universal-credit-getting-to-first-payment/