Frank Field MP accuses DWP benefits assessors of asking when terminally ill claimants “expect to be dead”

“They have been asked directly whether they think they will soon die, and by what date they expect to be dead.”

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The new chair of the Work and Pensions select committee, Frank Field, reports that two of his terminally ill constituents have directly been asked by benefits assessors when they expect to die. He is challenging the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) on the intrusion his constituents claim to have suffered.

The Labour MP for Birkenhead wrote a letter to the Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith on 30 June about two constituents who had written to him, distressed that they had been asked directly – one over the phone, and one face-to-face – when they will be dead.

Both cases, according to Field, expressed concerns about the process of applying for PIP (Personal Independence Payment – the new benefit that replaced the Disability Living Allowance) under the Special Rules if you are terminally ill (SRTI).

In the letter, Field writes:

My constituents tell me that despite submitting a DS1500 form drawing attention to terminal illness, they have been asked directly to their face whether they think they will soon die, and by what date they expect to be dead. In one case, my constituent’s mother was asked by when she expected her daughter to die and in front of her daughter.

This has left my constituents understandably feeling very upset. They tell me they are appalled by the hardness of questioning and its intrusiveness.

The DS1500 is a form the patient fills in, signed by their doctor, to inform the government that they are terminally ill – part of the procedure for applying for PIP under the Special Rules.

It is not part of the process for a claimant in such circumstances to be questioned directly – it should all be done via the form they fill in with their GP. According to the Guardian, once the form is submitted to the DWP, assessors are not expected to challenge a patient about their expected date of death, or question the patient about their illness.

The DWP emphasises that it is not part of the procedure to question terminally ill patients as alleged in Field’s letter:

Claims from people with a terminal illness are fast-tracked using ‘special rules’, where we pay the highest rate of care immediately without a face-to-face assessment.

All claims are dealt with fairly, sensitively and compassionately by specially trained staff – they do not ask specifics around life expectancy.

According to the most recent DWP figures, released in June, 99 per cent of new PIP claims under SRTI were awarded (excluding withdrawn claims). This comes to over 35,000 terminally ill claimants receiving PIP.

Nevertheless, Field has asked the Department for a copy of the guidance given to PIP assessors, and for it to “investigate this issue” with a view to a possible change in policy.

Anoosh Chakelian is the New Statesman’s Britain editor.

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