By John Pring Disability News Service February 1st 2018
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has again broken its promise to stop harassing a traumatised benefit claimant while he waits to give vital evidence in a child abuse trial.
Disability News Service (DNS) has been reporting on the continuing harassment of David* by DWP since 2016, when former minister for disabled people Justin Tomlinson faced calls to resign after threatening to stop his benefits if he failed to co-operate with an Atos reassessment.
David is a key witness in the trial and has been told by police not to discuss his case with anyone, or to allow DWP or Atos access to his medical records, because court proceedings are live and the case is sub-judice.
He has severe post-traumatic stress disorder, caused by the horrific sexual abuse he suffered as a child, and which has led to several suicide attempts.
The toll of the criminal investigation on his mental health has also been harrowing, resulting in a series of self-harm episodes.
Last year, DWP broke its promise not to harass David, after Atos asked him to attend a face-to-face personal independence payment (PIP) assessment.
Atos made it clear that DWP had failed to include any note asking it not to contact David on the file it received about his PIP claim.
Now David has been contacted again, with DWP sending him a text message last week warning him that he would be sent a PIP2 How Your Disability Affects You form, which he would need to complete and return.
David said that DWP’s behaviour “completely dehumanises me, violates my privacy and strips away any remaining dignity”.
He added: “Their actions are abhorrent with seemingly zero accountability.”
He said he had never received a personal apology from DWP and had never been given a named contact so he could confidentially update them on his situation with confidence, knowing they had “the skill set to ensure any duty of care”.
Alice Kirby, co-founder of the user-led organisation Disabled Survivors Unite (DSU), which supports disabled survivors of abuse and sexual violence, said: “It is completely unacceptable that the DWP has continued this campaign of harassment against a disabled man during an extremely difficult time in his life.
“The DWP need to fully investigate why they have repeatedly failed to stop contact despite promising to do so and renew their policies on supporting claimants in vulnerable positions, or write a policy if one doesn’t already exist.
“Disabled Survivors Unite has recently advertised a research project** which is looking into how survivors of sexual violence have been treated since the social security system was reformed in 2012.
“It is research we very much welcome and hope can improve, or create, policies to support survivors claiming benefits.”
A spokesman for David’s MP, who is not being named to avoid identifying David, said: “DWP have never told us – despite requests for assurances in the past – that he will not be subject to the regular DWP demands for information and reassessments, which most people feel rightly harassed by.
“The Labour position is that already vulnerable and struggling people should not be subjected to this DWP harassment.”
When DWP was asked by DNS about the latest harassment, a spokeswoman appeared to accept that David had again been wrongly contacted, and she said DWP had now extended his PIP award by another year, to June 2019.
But she refused to apologise for the latest harassment or confirm that the text message was sent mistakenly.
She said in a statement: “In January 2018 we asked [David] to fill in a form to enable us to assess his needs and ensure he gets the support he is eligible for beyond June 2018, when his current PIP award is due to end.
“We contacted the claimant to ensure his support was not stopped in June without warning.”
She added: “We’ve extended [David’s] PIP award for a further 12 months to June 2019.
“It is important that we are notified if the court case is still ongoing past this date, and we would therefore encourage [David] to keep us updated so we can ensure he receives the appropriate support.”
David’s treatment yet again throws a harsh light on DWP’s policies and procedures for dealing with claimants in vulnerable situations.
In 2016, the department was finally forced to publish redacted versions of 49 secret “peer reviews” into the deaths of benefit claimants.
Those peer reviews showed that ministers were repeatedly warned by their own civil servants that their policies to assess people for disability benefits were putting the lives of vulnerable claimants at risk.
*Not his real name
**The research focuses only on women survivors