Helping a woman with mental health conditions access justice

Case name: XX v Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

A woman has mental health issues and claimed Employment and Support Allowance. She was referred to the Work Programme, which involves work-focused interviews and activities designed to improve people’s chances of finding work. She found it difficult to attend these because no adjustments had been made for her mental health impairments. She experienced deterioration in her health as a result of attempting to carry out the mandatory activities. She brought claims for failure to make reasonable adjustments and indirect disability discrimination.

Legal issue

Was the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) policy not to notify work programme providers of details of the claimants’ disabilities indirectly discriminatory?

Did the external contractor discriminate by requiring the claimant to carry out unsuitable work related activity, and by failing to make reasonable adjustments to enable her to do so?

Background

The claimant has multiple mental health impairments. She requires daily support from her partner, including to undertake self-care and household tasks. She relies on her partner to help her leave the house and experiences particularly high levels of anxiety in group situations.

The woman claimed Employment and Support Allowance. The assessment for this benefit found she had limited capability for work, but could do work-related activity. To help her back to work, she was referred to the Work Programme, which was run by an external contractor.

The programme meant she had to attend frequent meetings in the contractor's open plan office space.

She found this very stressful and felt unwell for a few hours after each meeting. The contractor also sent on courses which were in large groups and which her partner could not attend with her.

The woman repeatedly asked for more appropriate work-related activity but nothing was changed and she eventually stopped attending the WP meetings. As a result, the Department for Work and Pensions sanctioned (stopped or reduced) her benefits for about five months.

She brought a claim against the contractor for failure to make reasonable adjustments, and against the Department for Work and Pensions for disability related discrimination.

What we did

We provided legal assistance for this case in order secure a change in the law that would better protect disabled people from discrimination.

We said that reasonable adjustments must be made to work-related activity schemes to allow people with mental health problems to participate.

We also said that the DWP should notify work programme providers of details of claimants’ disabilities so that reasonable adjustments can be made.

What happened

The case was settled before it came to court. The Department for Work and Pensions did not admit liability, however, it recognised that people with a mental health impairment are particularly disadvantaged when it comes to having to explain their disability.

Who will benefit and how

The case had a positive outcome for the woman, who settled out of court and received £4,000.

We hope the outcome will encourage providers of work-related activity schemes to consider the needs of people with mental health conditions, and ensure that the Department for Work and Pensions makes changes to avoid sanctioning people for issues linked to a disability.

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