DWP faces legal blitzkrieg

Iain Duncan Smith’s little shop of horrors, more commonly known as the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), has opened itself up to a legal challenge after telling a woman who was denied employment and support allowance that she contributed to her own medical condition, Ewing’s Sarcoma (a rare bone cancer).

"I used to be party leader don't cha know!"

“I used to be party leader don’t cha know!”

“We have now decided that you did contribute to your medical condition”

Freedom of Information request, submitted by Mr Glynne Powell, revealed that the DWP does not have a directory or guideline to consider a claimant’s contribution to their condition. The Department was only able to provide a guide to cancers and chemotherapy medications produced by the Macmillan Cancer Support group, which can be found here.

In reply to the DWP’s response to his FOI request, Mr Powell wrote: “The reason why I’m unhappy is because I have proof that someone at the DWP has stated a claimant has brought cancer on themselves.”

Ewig's sarcoma 2

He added: “From the information you have provided in conjunction with my proof, the decision maker has indeed operated outside the law and legal action can therefore be taken against the DWP.”

The original letter from the DWP, with comments from the claimant’s boyfriend

It remains to be seen whether a formal legal challenge will be forthcoming. But the DWP should be given the benefit of the doubt as to whether they intentionally operated outside the law, or just suffered from an acute bout of crippling incompetence, right?

“Business as usual for DWP operations”

Or at least they would probably deserve such treatment if the department had not already shown such a flagrant disregard for the legal process, as recently revealed by the Disability News service.

A supreme court ruled in December that the work capability assessment (WCA) – which tested the eligibility of a potential claimant for employment and support allowance – had discriminated against disabled people. The case will return to the tribunal so that it will decide how to address the discrimination. 

But as far as the DWP is concerned, it remains “business as usual for DWP operations,” according to a leaked “Gatekeeper Memo” published by the Benefits and Work website.

The memo states, despite the court ruling, that “individuals will apply for ESA and undergo the WCA in the normal way. Those currently on Incapacity Benefit will be reassessed as planned.” The memo also says that the DWP “[does] not believe” the WCA puts people with mental health conditions at a disadvantage.

Ravi Low-Beer, a solicitor who was involved in the ruling, told the Disability News Service: “They have challenged the finding that the process discriminates against people with mental health conditions and they lost. Where a court has made that finding, they cannot just do nothing. They have to consider making reasonable adjustments.”

But a DWP spokesperson disagreed, stating: “This case is still on-going and will return to the upper tribunal to consider whether the adjustment to the process proposed by the claimants is reasonable.”

He added: “The WCA was introduced in 2008 by the…  *PREVIOUS GOVERNMENT KLAXON*. We have made – and continue to make – significant improvements to the WCA process for people with mental health conditions since then.”

Related: DWP drops Supreme Court appeal over disabled children “bedroom tax” by Child Poverty Action Group, March 2013

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