EHRC takes action to improve treatment of disabled benefit claimants
The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is requiring the Department for Work and Pensions to improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants in response to serious concerns about failures to meet the needs of its customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities.
Disability campaigners had raised concerns with the Commission about the deaths of DWP customers in vulnerable situations, and an all-party group of MPs asked the EHRC in February 2021 to “undertake an investigation into the deaths of vulnerable claimants by suicide and other causes between 2008 and 2020”. The Commission examined whether the DWP was making reasonable adjustments to its processes for people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties, as required under the Equality Act 2010.
Through 2021, the Commission questioned DWP officials about the concerns that its legal obligations to disabled customers were not being met. The DWP outlined the steps being taken to address the problems identified. However, the Commission has concluded that further action is necessary, given the seriousness of the issues.
It is therefore drawing up a legally binding agreement with the DWP to commit them to an action plan to meet the needs of customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities. This legally binding action plan is focused on resolving issues for DWP customers, and offers a fast, effective means of redress, and helps to avoid lengthy investigations.
Marcial Boo, chief executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said: “The EHRC is committed to stamping out discrimination against all disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities whose needs can be overlooked.
“Government bodies often deliver essential services to vulnerable people. They must meet high standards and make reasonable adjustments for those who need them. The EHRC will hold them to account if they do not.
“This agreement with DWP will build on the improvements already taking place for disabled benefits claimants. We are pleased that officials are working cooperatively with us to address our concerns, and we expect the binding legal agreement to be in place shortly. We will monitor its delivery.”
The DWP told Scottish Housing News it has yet to agree or sign a Section 23 agreement.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing a compassionate and responsive service to all our customers, and are constantly improving our processes to deliver consistently reliable and high quality standards.
“We have not so far identified any systemic unlawful action by the department. We will continue to work collaboratively towards our shared goals with the Commission, addressing their concerns and delivering for our customers.”