The DWP has been ordered to apologise to the sister of a vulnerable claimant who committed suicide after his benefits were cut, according to the Guardian. The case bears a striking resemblance to others in which the DWP have failed to follow their own guidelines and also ignored coroner’s prevention of future death reports.
Physiotherapist assessment for mental health
When Linda Cooksey found the body of her brother Tim Salter in his home in September 2013, there was no food in the house, no money in his bank account and a letter from his housing association threatening him with eviction.
Salter had been left partially sighted following a previous suicide attempt and had mental health conditions including agoraphobia. In spite of this, and references to suicide in his claim for ESA, he was found fit for work and had his benefits drastically cut nine months before his death.
Linda Cooksey told the Guardian in January 2015:
“The chap who assessed my brother was a physiotherapist. He didn’t know anything about mental health. They should have taken notice of the first paragraph of his statement, that he had attempted suicide, that he had low moods. You’d think they would say, ‘We better tread carefully here.’ The system does not cater for mental health problems.”
Salter’s case was one of the 60 secret DWP reviews into the deaths of claimants which are the subject of a current Benefits and Work freedom of information request.
However, the review found no fault with the way that the case had been handled.
Cooksey then complained to the Independent Case Examiner (ICE).
Bizarrely, ICE did not uphold the complaint because Salter had “told Atos Healthcare professionals that he sometimes felt suicidal”, but he had failed to make a “declaration of an intention to attempt suicide (for which the DWP has detailed guidance for staff)”.
Following this decision Cooksey took her case to her MP who passed the case to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The Ombudsman found that the DWP had failed to follow proper procedure because they had not requested further medical evidence after Salter disclosed a previous suicide attempt.
The Ombudsman said that such a request might not have altered the final decision on Salter’s fitness for work, as he was not seeing any health professionals about his mental health, but would have reassured relatives that the DWP had done the best it could.
Tim Salter’s case is far from unique. In fact, the DWP have ignored two prevention of future death warnings over the issue of failure to collect further medical evidence in mental health cases.
Stephen Carre took his own life in January 2010 after being found capable of work following an Atos work capability assessment (WCA).
A coroner found that the DWP failed to seek further medical evidence even though Carre had a psychiatrist and a community mental health nurse.
The coroner issued a prevention of future death warning because of the failure to chase up further evidence. The DWP has a statutory duty to respond to such notices explaining what they are going to do to prevent similar situations occurring.
The DWP never did so.
Michael O’Sullivan, who suffered from anxiety and depression, committed suicide in September 2013 after being found capable of work.
In January 2014 a coroner issued a prevention of future death warning because Atos and the DWP had failed to request further medical evidence from his GP, his psychiatrist or his clinical psychologist.
The DWP responded on this occasion and gave an undertaking to “issue a reminder to staff about the guidance related to suicidal ideation”.
They never did so.
The Ombudsman in Tim Salter’s case gave both the DWP and ICE one month from 16 November to make their apology to Cooksey.
ICE has now done so.
The DWP remain silent.