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Compensation paid to family of woman who died after benefits cut

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Written by: Emma Lunn
03/11/2021
Capita, a Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) contractor, has settled a negligence claim by the family of Philippa Day, 27, who died of overdose.

Philippa’s family sued Capita after she died in October 2019, two months after taking an overdose. She was suffering ‘acute financial distress’ caused by the administration of her welfare benefits.

Capita has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum to her family by way of compensation for its failings. Representatives from the firm will also meet with Philippa’s family to discuss the changes made to prevent another person being treated like Philippa was.

Philippa had suffered mental illness and type 1 diabetes since childhood. She had a record of self-harm and had several stays in psychiatric care.

She died following a long struggle over her Personal Independence Payment (PIP) benefits claim in 2019. She was found collapsed by her sister and father on 8 August 2019, with a letter beside her from the DWP refusing her a home assessment visit over her benefits. She died just over two months later.

At the conclusion of the inquest into Philippa’s death in January 2021, assistant coroner Gordon Clow delivered a damning indictment of systemic problems at the DWP and Capita. It concluded Philippa’s mental health illness had been “exacerbated” by the way her benefits were processed.

As a diabetic Philippa had received Disability Living Allowance (DLA) since she was 16. In November 2018 Philippa made a claim for PIP but the application form she returned to the DWP was not received and her DLA payments were cancelled in January 2019.

With no disability benefits income, Philippa fell into a spiral of poverty, anxiety and despair. Calls to the DWP and its agents were not treated in accordance with safeguarding policy and it took months for her DLA to be reinstated and she was then refused a home visit for a PIP assessment.

Imogen Day, Philippa’s sister, said: “Our family have always maintained that my sister’s treatment by the Capita, on behalf of the DWP directly impacted her mental state and in the end is the reason for her death.

“Capita’s wall of bureaucracy, with no consideration for Philippa’s mental state, exacerbated her despair at her debt and poverty. She was met with cold, uncaring call operators who would not listen to her cries for help. However we welcome the opportunity to meet with Capita to discuss improvements to their service.

Merry Varney, a partner at Leigh Day, who represented the family, said: “Through this settlement, and the public investigation into how the DWP and its agents treated Philippa, a young mother with physical and mental health conditions which led to damning findings by the coroner, the law has delivered some accountability for and recognition of the wrongs Philippa suffered and the devastating impact on her family.

“Capita has shown acceptance of their failures and a willingness to ensure their mistakes are not repeated, however there remain too many examples of the DWP, which controls the financial circumstances of the majority of people too sick to work, acting inhumanely to those receiving benefits and a continued resistance by the DWP to transparent investigations into benefit related deaths.

“Until the DWP changes its attitude, people like Philippa and her family remain at risk of gross human rights violations and ‘benefit related deaths’ are just another example of preventable deaths of people with disabilities occurring without any proper investigation or scrutiny.”

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