The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is calling on the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to improve its treatment of disability benefit claimants in response to serious concerns about the inability to respond to the needs of its clients with mental and learning disabilities.
Disability campaigners had raised concerns with the Commission about the deaths of DWP clients in vulnerable situations, and a group of cross-party 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”.
Throughout 2021, the EHRC questioned DWP officials about concerns that its legal obligations to customers with disabilities were not being met.
It looked at whether the DWP made reasonable adjustments to its processes for people with mental health and learning disabilities, as required by the Equality Act 2010.
The DWP then described the actions taken to address the issues identified.
However, the EHRC concluded that further action was required given the severity of the issues.
He is currently developing a legally binding agreement with the DWP to engage them in an action plan to meet the needs of clients with mental health and learning disabilities.
The EHRC said this legally binding action plan focuses on resolving issues for DWP claimants, provides a quick and effective avenue of redress, and helps avoid lengthy investigations.
Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Marcial Boo, said: “The EHRC is committed to eradicating discrimination against all people with disabilities, including those with mental and learning disabilities whose needs may be overlooked.
“Government agencies often provide essential services to vulnerable people. They must meet high standards and make reasonable adjustments for those who need them. The EHRC will hold them accountable if they fail to do so.
He added: “This agreement with DWP will build on improvements already underway for disability benefit claimants.
“We are pleased that officials are working cooperatively with us to address our concerns, and expect the binding legal agreement to be in place shortly. We will monitor its delivery.
A Section 23 agreement has not been agreed or signed by the Department for Work and Pensions
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to providing compassionate and responsive service to all of our customers, and are constantly improving our processes to deliver consistently high and reliable quality standards.
“We have thus far identified no systemic unlawful actions by the department. We will continue to work collaboratively with the Commission to achieve our common goals, addressing their concerns and responding to our customers.”
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