DWP chiefs quietly change rule on stopping benefits after man starved to death

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Welfare chiefs have changed their rules for the most vulnerable people after a man whose benefits were stopped starved to death.

Errol Graham weighed less than five stone when he was found with just two tins of fish in his cupboard in June 2018.

His payments ended eight months earlier – when DWP staff made two “safeguarding” visits to his home with no reply.

The 57-year-old claimed his severe mental illness made him afraid of answering the door.

Today it emerged officials have already changed their rules, with little public fanfare, so similar cases will go through an extra step before payments end.

If people are not engaging with the DWP, they will now be considered by a “case conference” before any decision to stop their benefit.

DWP Permanent Secretary Peter Schofield told MPs “we will work with other agencies to seek to understand what’s going on.”

But the DWP admitted some of those people might still end up having their benefits cut off.

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey said: “It’s difficult to try and set blanket rules… it’s got to be tailored to the individual.”

The change appears to be a rare admission that the government could have done more to protect Mr Graham, a football-loving grandad from Nottingham.

Mr Schofield admitted the changes were made after a Serious Case Panel met on March 19 in the wake of Mr Graham’s death.

But he refused to discuss Mr Graham’s case specifically, after his family launched a High Court action against the government.

Mr Schofield was grilled alongside Ms Coffey over a heartbreaking toll of claimants’ deaths.

The Commons Work and Pensions Committee quizzed chiefs after the benefit process was linked to 69 suicides over six years.

Ms Coffey admitted 79 ‘Internal Process Reviews’ were sparked by major issues, which can include suicides, last year.

She revealed DWP officials have met grieving families in a “handful” of “high-profile” cases – and the Serious Case Panel will now meet every three months to consider what lessons can be learned.

But she insisted the “overwhelming majority” of claimants are happy with the system.

And despite calls for an independent inquiry into benefit claimants’ deaths, she confirmed the Serious Case Panel is stacked with senior DWP managers – and led by a non-executive director of the DWP.

The Panel will also not publish any findings on individual cases when its minutes are published later this year.

Ms Coffey told MPs: “We’re not going to get into the ins and outs of individual cases.

“This is a thematic process. I hope it will inform the committee and indeed the wider public of some of the lessons learned and what processes may be changed.”

The “independent” member will be the DWP’s Independent Case Examiner rather than someone outside government entirely.

Ms Coffey added: “I’m not planning to change the members.

“The panel can invite people if they wish to to come and give some help or some challenge, but it’s not intended to be a big new ‘body’ as it were.”

MPs asked the Tory welfare chief about tragic cases including David Clapson, who died after his benefits stopped, and Faiza Ahmed who took her own life.

But Ms Coffey said she could not comment on cases which had outstanding legal challenges.

Labour MP Steve McCabe said it was “extraordinary” she was trying to “draw a veil” over the details of specific cases.

And Labour MP Debbie Abrahams – who has called for a full independent inquiry into benefit claimants’ deaths – slammed the DWP for failing to communicate with their families properly.

She said: “Is this how the state should be treating grieving relatives?”

DWP officials said there are now 10 new “safeguarding leads” in different regions to identify difficult cases, with 15 more to be hired.

Mr Schofield admitted some claimants had “fallen between the cracks of different agencies” in the past.

He added: “We’ve got to get the process right, we’ve also got to be serious about being a listening and learning organisation and that starts with people like me.”

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