Action has been taken by the Equality & Human Rights Commission to require the Department for Work & Pensions to improve its treatment of disabled benefit claimants.

The Commission investigated after serious concerns were raised about DWP failures to meet the needs of its customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities. Disability campaigners took up the issue following the deaths of DWP customers in vulnerable situations, and an all-party group of MPs asked the EHRC in February 2021 to “undertake an investigation into the deaths of vulnerable claimants by suicide and other causes between 2008 and 2020”.

During 2021 the Commission examined whether the DWP was making reasonable adjustments to its processes for people with mental health conditions and learning difficulties, as required under the Equality Act 2010. Although the DWP outlined steps being taken to address the problems identified, the Commission has concluded that further action is necessary, given the seriousness of the issues.

It is therefore drawing up a legally binding agreement with the DWP to commit the department to an action plan to meet the needs of customers with mental health impairments and learning disabilities. The plan will be focused on resolving issues for DWP customers, offering a fast, effective means of redress, and helping to avoid lengthy investigations.

EHRC chief executive Marcial Boo commented: "The EHRC is committed to stamping out discrimination against all disabled people, including those with mental health conditions and learning disabilities whose needs can be overlooked.

"Government bodies often deliver essential services to vulnerable people. They must meet high standards and make reasonable adjustments for those who need them. The EHRC will hold them to account if they do not.

"This agreement with DWP will build on the improvements already taking place for disabled benefits claimants. We are pleased that officials are working cooperatively with us to address our concerns, and we expect the binding legal agreement to be in place shortly. We will monitor its delivery."