The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is facing an investigation into its refusal to publish ‘secret’ reviews into 49 benefit-related deaths, it has been reported today.
The investigation was launched by the Information Commissioners Office following a complaint from Disability News Service (DNS).
A number of Freedom of Information (FOI) requests, including from DNS, demanding that the DWP publish its reviews into benefit-related deaths have been rebuffed by the department.
Officials have since admitted that of the 49 reviews the DWP has carried out so far, 33 included a recommendation to make improvements and 40 were made in response to an apparent suicide.
The DWP says publishing the reviews could represent a breach of section 44 of the Freedom of Information Act; which states that it would be an offence for a DWP employee to, “disclose without lawful authority any information which he acquired in the course of that employment and which relates to a particular person”.
A complaint from DNS has now sparked an investigation by the information watchdog.
An ICO case officer told DNS: “The focus of my investigation will be to determine whether the DWP is entitled to rely on section 44 as a basis for refusing to provide the information you requested.
“Should it not be a valid refusal of your request the commissioner will also determine what information can be provided within the appropriate cost limit.”
DNS says the investigation is likely to take a number of months. And in the event that investigators rule against the DWP they could still appeal the decision.
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