Department for Work and Pensions under investigation for treatment of disabled benefits claimants

Published: 22 May 2024

Britain’s equality regulator has launched an investigation into the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions over concerns about the treatment of some disabled benefits claimants.

The investigation has been launched by the Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) due to suspicions that successive Secretaries of State may have broken equality law in their roles as Minister responsible for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The focus of the investigation will be whether the DWP has failed to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people with learning disabilities or long-term mental health conditions during health assessment determinations.

Alongside the investigation, the EHRC will also be assessing whether the Secretary of State has failed to comply with Public Sector Equality Duty (PSED) obligations. These obligations require public sector bodies such as the DWP to consider equality and prevent discrimination in their day-to-day operations. The EHRC will be assessing the department’s compliance with the duty when developing, implementing and monitoring policy guidance related to health assessment determinations.

Baroness Kishwer Falkner, Chairwoman of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, said:

We are extremely worried about the treatment of some disabled benefits claimants by the DWP. We suspect the Secretary of State’s department may have broken equality law. We have decided we need to take the strongest possible action and that’s why we’ve launched this investigation.

The DWP is responsible for vital support which many disabled people rely on, including Personal Independence Payments, Employment and Support Allowance and Universal Credit. Access to that support must be fair and must meet the requirements of the Equality Act 2010.

Our investigation, alongside the PSED assessment we are also undertaking, will find out whether the DWP and the Secretary of State have breached equality law. If they have, we will use our unique legal powers to hold them to account.

Background and Next Steps

The EHRC began examining the DWP’s treatment of some benefits claimants in 2021 after serious concerns were raised, including cases involving the deaths of claimants. After an examination of available evidence, the EHRC found that further action was required and initially announced its intention to sign a legally binding agreement with the DWP to address its concerns.

The EHRC is now no longer considering offering an agreement and has decided to pursue a formal investigation to establish whether the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions has committed unlawful acts under the Equality Act 2010. The investigation begins today.

The DWP will be expected to provide information to EHRC investigators over the course of the investigation and PSED assessment. Stakeholders such as disability charities will be asked to share any relevant information which they may have with the EHRC.

Whistleblowers who currently or have previously worked for the DWP on health assessments are also encouraged to provide evidence, including those who may have worked on the DWP’s behalf for a private contractor. All evidence will then be reviewed to inform the outcomes of the EHRC’s investigation and assessment.