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Safeguarding vulnerable claimants: Work and Pensions Committee launches new inquiry

21 July 2023

The Work and Pensions Committee examines how DWP supports vulnerable benefit claimants and whether its approach to safeguarding needs to change

The inquiry has been launched after the number of Internal Process Reviews (IPRs) carried out by DWP to investigate allegations of inadequate case handling that may have resulted in serious harm more than doubled in the three years from July 2019. There have also been a number of individual cases which have highlighted issues around safeguarding and the actions of DWP.

Although there is no set definition of vulnerable claimants used by the Department, people may have difficulty in dealing with the demands of DWP processes and claim requirements as a result of things such as their age, disability or risk of abuse or neglect. While DWP have a number of measures in place to support and protect vulnerable people, such as IPRs, DWP currently has no statutory safeguarding duty.

The Committee held a one-off evidence session on how DWP learns lessons from serious cases in July 2020, while the National Audit Office has published two reports reflecting on the issues. The inquiry will allow the Committee to follow-up on the progress made by the Department in the last three years.

Rt Hon Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said:

“The steep rise in the number of reviews into internal processes raises serious questions as to whether DWP is doing enough to protect the wellbeing of the people who it is there to support.

“Our inquiry will examine what DWP is doing to ensure benefits are accessible and claimants are protected from harm. It will also look at whether the Department should have a statutory duty when it comes to safeguarding and how it learns lessons to ensure mistakes that affect some of the most vulnerable people in society are not repeated.”

The Committee would welcome submissions covering all or some of the following questions by Friday 13 October. The Committee is looking to hear from people with lived experiences of these issues and will also hold an event with claimants with additional needs and their families to discuss the issues raised in the inquiry. Further information on how to register interest will be published shortly.

DWP’s responsibilities and accountability

1. DWP does not have a statutory duty to safeguard the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants. Should this change?- If so, what should this duty look like?

a. Is DWP adequately transparent about its safeguarding measures for vulnerable claimants, including how the IPR process works and what is done to implement lessons learned?

2. Is DWP adequately transparent about its safeguarding failures to ensure it is held accountable?

Ensuring benefits are accessible

3. What are the main challenges that vulnerable claimants face when trying to make a new benefit claim?

a. How effective is the Universal Credit “Help to Claim” service at supporting vulnerable claimants to register a claim?

b. What should DWP do to improve support for vulnerable people to make a claim and ensure they do not delay making a claim?

Preventing harm

4. What measures does DWP currently implement to ensure that vulnerable claimants are safeguarded against harm? How successful are these measures?

5. Do DWP have an adequate understanding of the vulnerable claimants that use the benefit system and the support they require?

a. Does DWP do enough to monitor the wellbeing of vulnerable claimants

b. Does DWP have sufficient processes in place to ensure that benefits are not withdrawn from vulnerable claimants when there is a risk that this will cause serious harm to the claimant?

6. How successfully does DWP work with external agencies (such as the NHS) to ensure that important information is shared between organisations?

a. Is there a framework in place that enables DWP to review the effectiveness of its cross-agency communication and collaboration?

7. Is DWP’s staff guidance for dealing with vulnerable claimants, including the Universal Credit Six Point Plan Framework, adequate?

Reviewing failures in safeguarding

8. How successful is the Internal Process Review (IPR) process at investigating allegations of case mishandling?

a. Are the Internal Process Review criteria for review appropriate? How could the process for submitting a case for review be improved?

9. Does DWP adequately implement lessons learned from IPRs to ensure that mistakes are not repeated and that the safeguarding process improves?

a. Does DWP have effective processes in place to identify and address larger, systemic issues around safeguarding?

b. How effectively does this process communicate and share learnings with other bodies involved in case reviews such as Coroners and local Safeguarding Adults Boards?

Further information

Image: UK Parliament/Tyler Allicock