Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee Stephen Timms MP has written to Thérèse Coffey MP (see below), Secretary of State at the Department for Work and Pensions, about the Department’s response to a report outlining weaknesses on how it learns lessons from the death by suicide of benefit claimants.
The letter asks what actions have been taken following the publication of the National Audit Office report and how the DWP is reviewing its processes.
The report published by the NAO on 7 February found that the DWP did not have robust records of contact by coroners and that staff did not always receive clear guidance on when to investigate a case.
It concluded that it was ‘highly unlikely’ that the 69 deaths by suicide investigated by the DWP in the last six years represented the number that could have been looked into.
The report also concluded that the DWP did not track findings and recommendations from its investigations and therefore did not know whether improvements had been made.
Commenting, Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The NAO’s report lays bare serious failings in the DWP’s internal processes: a significant risk that information from coroners was being overlooked, staff left confused by unclear guidance, and some not aware of the guidance at all.
“As a direct result, the DWP is highly likely to have missed chances to investigate. Perhaps more worrying still is the finding that lessons from investigations are not being learned, meaning that it is entirely possible that opportunities to prevent further deaths or harm have been missed.
“The DWP must now demonstrate that it is learning from these cases and making improvements as a result. It could start by providing comprehensive answers to the Committee’s questions.
“Without that transparency, it will be difficult for the public to have confidence that the Department is doing everything it can to provide an effective safety net for the people it serves.”