A 27-year-old mum took a fatal overdose after a litany of 28 failings over her disability benefit claim, an inquest has ruled.
A coroner issued a damning verdict today on the actions of the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after the death of Philippa Day, known as Pip, from Nottingham.
Assistant Coroner Gordon Clow issued a rare Prevention of Future Deaths report against the DWP and Capita, which it pays to run disability benefit assessments.
Outlining 28 “problems” with the way Pip’s claim was handled, the coroner said: “Given the sheer number of problems in the handling of Philippa’s claim, I am unable to conclude that each of these was attributable to individual human errors.”
Issues caused by the problems in handling her benefit claim were “the predominant factor, and the only acute factor, which led to her decision to take an overdose,” the coroner added.
Capita apologised to the family for the “mistakes made” in processing her claim. The DWP said it will “carefully consider” the findings of the coroner
Pip’s sister Imogen said tonight: “We believe that Pip’s treatment by the DWP had a direct impact on her mental state and in the end is the reason for her death.
“She was in despair because of the depths to which she had sunk.
“She could see no way out of the debt and the poverty in which she was living.
“Pip’s poor mental health meant she was not able to handle the battle with the DWP for the reinstatement of her benefits.
“The stress of the conflict with the DWP made her even more ill.”
Pip’s family say her weekly money was cut from £228 a week to just £60 in 2019 as she battled to switch from old-style DLA to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) in a lengthy back-and-forth with the DWP and Capita.
That June she told the DWP she was £5,000 in debt, the coroner said, telling them in a phone call: “I cannot survive, like physically survive, for another eight weeks, six weeks, four weeks whatever, without any money.”
Pip, who the inquest heard had a history of self-harm and suicidal ideation, said the situation was “a hole I cannot get out of. It has affected my identity, I have not had a haircut in over a year”.
The inquest heard Capita asked Pip to attend a face-to-face appointment in June 2019 to be assessed for PIP.
That was despite “a number of medical reports stating that this was not safe and appropriate” due to her mental health, which included agoraphobia and anxiety.
Pip was found collapsed in bed in August that year – next to a DWP letter warning her she must attend a face-to-face appointment – and taken to hospital.
Two weeks later, Capita determined it could determine her case without an assessment and in September 2019 she was awarded PIP after all, the coroner said.
But by then she was in a coma from which she did not recover, reports Nottingham Live.
Just over a month later she died of a brain injury.
The inquest heard that a “distressing and factually inaccurate letter was sent to Philippa” before her death, advising her that if she failed to attend the appointment “without good reason”, her claim would “likely” be refused.
The coroner said: “It is significant she had the letter by her side at the time she took her overdose.”
Reaching his conclusion, the coroner added: “The administration of Philippa Day’s benefits claim was characterised by multiple errors.
“As a result of errors made, Philippa Day’s income from benefits more than halved for a period of several months, causing her severe financial hardship.
“A decision was made in June 2019 to require her to attend an assessment at a centre.
“The distress caused by the administration of her welfare benefits claim left her suffering acute distress and exacerbated many of her other chronic stresses.
“Were it not for these problems it is unlikely Philippa Day would’ve taken an overdose on August 7 or 8 2019.”
Mr Clow said he had been “made aware” of changes which will be made at the DWP and Capita. The inquest heard that both organisations had completed internal reviews.
Areas of concern for the coroner:
– Mental health training did not form part of the mandatory training of call handlers before they are required to handle such calls
– Record keeping at the DWP
– Additional support markers for vulnerable claimants – already ‘clear evidence’ of improvement
– The institutional working assumption the DWP documents which are not on file are missing because the claimant failed to send them in
– The wording of the reminder letter – the DWP agreed to review this
– The training provided to disability assessors by Capita – Capita said it is committed to creating online training including emotionally unstable personality disorder.
The coroner concluded that Pip took her own life, but was not satisfied that it was “more likely than not” that she had intended her own death.
He said she “could see no way forward” and faced a “dreadful catch-22 situation” by being asked to attend a face-to-face appointment.
The coroner will issue a Prevention of Future Deaths Report directed to the DWP and Capita requiring them to consider and address the following areas:
– The need for training of mental health training for call handlers (previous training for personality disorder was ‘limited to a fact sheet’)
– Ensuring correspondence is accurate and does not create unnecessary distress
– Change in the assessment process including pausing the process when there is a need for a review
– More record keeping at the DWP
Leigh Day solicitor Merry Varney, who represented the family, said the case left “no doubt that the DWP and Capita through its flawed handling of Pip’s disability benefits claim materially contributed to the death of a much loved mum, sister and daughter.
She said: “My clients hope the changes the DWP and Capita have committed to make are done so promptly and thoroughly to protect other families.”
Fazilet Hadi of Disability Rights UK said: “An independent Inquiry into benefit-related deaths is long overdue.
“Philippa’s story is heartbreaking and reveals gross incompetence by the DWP and Capita.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “This is a deeply tragic case. Our sincere condolences are with Miss Day’s family and we will carefully consider the Coroner’s findings.”
A Capita spokesperson said: “We extend our sincere condolences to Philippa Day’s family over her tragic death. We would like to apologise to them for the mistakes made in processing her claim and the additional stress which was caused to Philippa.
“We have strengthened our processes over the last 18 months and are committed to continuously working to deliver a high-quality, empathetic service for every claimant.
“In partnership with the DWP, we will act upon the coroner’s findings and make further improvements to our processes.”
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