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Legal challenge success: DWP to end cold-calling of disabled claimants

The Department of Works and Pensions (DWP) has agreed to re-write its policies and guidance and to retrain officials following a successful legal challenge to the practice of calling disabled benefit claimants who had appealed a decision on benefit entitlement.

DWP staff had been encouraging the claimants, in these calls, to accept “offers” lower than their statutory entitlement and so discontinue their appeal. 

Offers before appeal

DWP callers telephoned claimants directly and repeatedly, even when claimants had made it clear that they had representatives who should have been contacted first. 

A legal challenge was made against the department by a disabled client of the Public Law Project charity. The client, who had undergone significant stress as a result of the practice, stated:

It feels as though the DWP has been picking on extremely vulnerable people and using the fear of going to a tribunal, or losing an award, to pressure people into accepting less than they should be getting.

Initially, the DWP refused to change its policy, but the day before the case was due to be heard in the High Court (13 July 2021), it conceded the case and agreed to amend its policies and guidance. It agreed to settle the claim. 

It also agreed to pay 90 per cent of the client’s costs, which clearly indicates that the DWP acknowledges it needs to change this practice. This was a matter the DWP could have agreed to change a long time ago but chose otherwise.

Our support for the case

We’ve supported this case for the last two years and RNIB’s Legal Rights Service provided two detailed statements and more than 50 case studies in support of the case. We placed emphasis on the fact that some 80 per cent of the telephone offers were being made directly to appellants when the representatives should have been contacted first.

Many of the people we spoke to had received these calls directly from DWP and were offered lower amounts than they were legally entitled to; many felt huge pressure to accept the offered amount.

As a result of this legal challenge, the DWP has agreed to re-write its policies and guidance and will retrain its officials to ensure they adhere to new rules.

Dominic Milne, RNIB Legal Rights Officer, said:

“We are delighted that, as a result of this judicial review, the Department for Work and Pensions has agreed to change its policy of cold-calling vulnerable and disabled people and trying to persuade them to accept lower benefit claims than they are legally entitled to."

We hope that this will go some way to improving the benefit claiming process for blind and partially sighted people.