DWP probe into tragic six-stone Stephen Smith insists department 'followed policy' when repeatedly denying him vital benefits

Liverpool Echo - 19 Jun 2019

An investigation into the treatment of six-stone Stephen Smith - who was wrongly denied benefits before his death - has shockingly found that the DWP 'followed policy'.

The 64-year-old Liverpool man was repeatedly and incorrectly turned down for benefits while suffering with a number of serious illnesses before his death.

Mr Smith, from Kensington, died a short time after he was forced to get a pass out from hospital to overturn an incorrect decision to deprive him of vital benefits for several years.

His range of debilitating illnesses meant that he had to fight the tribunal against the DWP weighing just six-stone and looking painfully malnourished.

After the decisions were overturned, Mr Smith was eventually paid back around £4,000 that he had wrongly been denied.

But the award came too late - and instead of using the money to live on, it was used for his funeral after his death in April.

Following his death - the ECHO published two doctors notes that had warned the DWP that Mr Smith was not fit for work, but were ignored.

There have been widespread calls for an independent inquiry into his treatment, including from Birkenhead MP and Work and Pensions Committee chair Frank Field.

He wrote to Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd who would not grant a full inquiry - instead only ordering an internal DWP review.

The results of that review have now been revealed.

Writing to Mr Field, Ms Rudd states: "This review has now concluded and shows that whilst the policy guidance was followed in Mr Smith's case, there were crucial safeguarding opportunities which were missed by the Department.

"The review has identified areas where we need to change our policy and we will be implementing these changes to ensure our most vulnerable claimants are protected."

The letter states that the changes will include:

- Identifying other trigger points for information sharing between lines to improve, join up and provide more holistic support. 
-Improving awareness across benefit lines of how new awards to or changes in benefit entitlement can materially affect other benefits in payment or under appeal - and encouraging or requiring staff to look for an act on these these links.
- Identifying the opportunities to embed these recommendations effectively and quickly across multiple customer journeys.

Ms Rudd wrote: "The Department will be working at pace to ensure that these are embedded and that vulnerable claimants are receiving the best possible support from the Department. I am adamant that we will learn important lessons from this tragic case and make changes to protect people like Mr Smith in future."

Mr Field was seriously unimpressed with the lack of humanity and abundance of jargon in a response about the death of a man so clearly failed by the system.

He told the ECHO: "‘This letter heavily disguises the fact that we’re talking about a man who lost his life, not a package that got lost within the DWP.

"It sums up much of what’s wrong with the DWP, which is apparently very short on human sympathy.

"What kind of policy guidance is it that fails to recognise that somebody is seriously ill and dying?’

Stephen was only able to win back the benefits that were rightfully his thanks to the work of benefit adviser Terry Craven and the CASA community centre in Hope Street - who took up his case when no one else would.

Liam Thorp, Liverpool Echo



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