DWP to face legal action over man who starved to death after benefits stopped

The family of Errol Graham, who died of starvation when his benefits were cut off, have launched legal action against the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Errol weighed just 30k when his body was found by bailiffs who broke into his council flat to evict him in June 2018.

His Employment and Support Allowance and Housing Benefit had been stopped in October 2017 because he had not attended  a Work Capability Assessment on 31 August 2017.

His housing benefit was also later stopped.

A coroner heard Mr Graham, had serious mental health difficulties including long-term depression.

An inquest found his loss of income was likely to have "caused huge distress".

Today, Errol's daughter-in-law Alison Turner, sent a pre-action letter to the DWP arguing that their systems and procedures around cancelling benefits are unlawful.

She also claims that the secretive investigations and reviews being conducted by the DWP into benefit-related deaths are unlawful and must be reformed.

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Alison, 31, from Nottinghamshire, argues in her case that the DWP has failed to put in place effective mechanisms to identify the risks and flaws in its system, correct them, and prevent further deaths occurring.

Amongst the complaints, they argue that the termination of Errol’s benefits, and the relevant policy or system in place, were incompatible with his human rights.

Alison, said: “The government owes it to Errol, his family and the country to explain why the DWP has repeatedly failed to learn from these tragedies over many years.

"In Errol’s memory I am determined to fight for change so that no more families have to live through the horror we have.”

A DWP spokesman said: "Our sympathies are with Mr Graham’s family. It would be inappropriate to comment further at this time.”

Tessa Gregory, solicitor from law firm Leigh Day representing Alison, said: “One of the alarming features of Errol’s death is that according to the DWP their safeguarding policies were followed to the letter.

"Errol was flagged as highly vulnerable, and all the necessary steps under the policies were taken, but a decision was still made to terminate all of his benefits without finding anything out about his physical or mental health.

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“This isn’t a case about DWP officials who made one-off mistakes, it is a case about a government department whose policies and systems are tragically and systematically failing the vulnerable people they are meant to protect.” 

At the time of the inquest Assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock: "The sudden loss of all income, and the threat of eviction that followed from it, will have caused huge distress and worry, and significant financial hardship.

"It is likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors, that had a significant effect on his mental health.

"The safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it."

Alison's solicitors have said they want a response by 10 March 2020 and if they don't they will consider issuing judicial review proceedings in the High Court.

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