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Equalities watchdog draws up binding action plan for DWP to improve treatment of disabled benefit claimants

The Equality and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) is to set out a legally binding action plan requiring the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants in light of an investigation into the suicides of vulnerable claimants.

The Commission said that the Section 23 agreement, a measure under the Equality Act 2006, would focus on resolving issues for DWP customers, offer a fast means of redress, and will help to avoid lengthy investigations.

Concerns over the deaths of DWP customers in vulnerable situations were initially raised by disability campaigners, and in February 2021 an all-party group of MPs asked the EHRC to investigate.

The all-party group specifically asked that the EHRC "undertake an investigation into the deaths of vulnerable claimants by suicide and other causes between 2008 and 2020".

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The EHRC 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 EHRC questioned DWP officials about the concerns that its legal obligations to disabled customers were not being met.

In response, the DWP outlined steps being taken to address the problems identified. However, the EHRC said it concluded that further action is necessary, given the seriousness of the issues.

It is therefore drawing up a Section 23 agreement with the DWP to commit the Department to an action plan to meet the needs of customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities.

The EHCR said the agreement would likely be signed by summer 2022.

Section 23 agreements are entered into voluntarily, and there is no liability on the part of the organisation.

Chief Executive of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, Marcial Boo, 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".

Mr Marcial added: "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."

Adam Carey

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