Campaigners say DWP is breaching the law by delaying release of nine secret reviews
Secret reviews by the DWP into the deaths of benefit claimants are being withheld in breach of Freedom of Information laws campaigners claim.
According to the campaign website Disability News Service (DNS) ministers are delaying the release of nine reviews into benefit claimant deaths, even though civil servants apparently prepared them for release three weeks ago after FOI legislation forced them to do so.
The reviews cover the period from August 2014 to January 2016, and are likely to be similar in format to the 49 reviews that were released by DWP last month following a 21-month battle with DNS to keep them secret.
The latest request was submitted on 15 April, but DNS has been told by DWP’s freedom of information team that a draft response was completed on 23 May – three weeks ago – but has still not been released.
A DWP spokeswoman refused to explain why.
She said: “We always aim to respond to freedom of information requests within 20 working days – in fact nine out of ten responses are sent within that timescale.
“We will issue a response in due course.”
Many of the 49 reviews released last month concerned the deaths of disabled people who had applied for the out-of-work disability benefit employment and support allowance (ESA), through the work capability assessment (WCA) process.
And many of the reviews – 40 of which refer to benefit claimants who took their own lives – concerned the reassessment of long-term claimants of incapacity benefit (IB).
Although key parts of the peer reviews were missing because they were heavily redacted, DNS found 10 key recommendations for DWP to take national action to improve the way it treated vulnerable benefit claimants.
They could provide crucial evidence for calls for former work and pensions secretary Iain Duncan Smith to face a criminal investigation for misconduct in public office following his refusal to address a coroner’s concerns about the safety of the WCA in 2010.
The campaign, led by the Scottish-based grassroots group Black Triangle and backed by many other disabled activists, want to hold Duncan Smith and his former employment minister Chris Grayling to account for their failure to improve the safety of the WCA when they were warned that it risked causing further deaths.
The nine peer reviews – now renamed internal process reviews – are likely to be scrutinised closely by disabled activists for further evidence of failings in the way DWP has dealt with benefit claimants labelled as “vulnerable”, many of whom are likely to be mental health service-users or have learning difficulties.
Last November, government-funded research concluded that the programme to reassess people claiming incapacity benefit using the work capability assessment could have caused 590 suicides in just three years.