Woman with ‘a lot to live for’ took her own life after ‘flawed’ Atos work capability assessment slashed her benefits by a third, watchdog says

Woman with history of depression had ‘a lot to look forward to’ before benefits were cut

A woman with a history of depression took her own life because her benefits were cut following an Atos capability assessment, a mental health watchdog has said.

The woman, in her fifties, had been experiencing both mental and physical health issues and was on strong medication, yet received zero points in an hour-long Work Capability Assessment (WCA).

The case of the woman, identified only as Ms DE, was brought to the attention of the Mental Welfare Commission for Scotland (MWC), and after an extensive investigation the watchdog said it had raised “numerous concerning issues” about the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) and Atos process.

It said Ms DE did not receive a self-assessment questionnaire, no evidence was sought from her psychiatrist or GP and “she was not treated as a vulnerable claimant”.

After an hour with Ms DE, the doctor conducting the assessment for Atos, on behalf of the DWP, concluded that she showed “no evidence that she has a significant disability of mental health function”.

She was notified on 9 December 2011 that she had scored zero points on the assessment, and that her incapacity benefit of £94.25 a week would be cut to a Jobseeker’s Allowance of £67.50.

She took an overdose on New Year’s Eve that year.

“This lady had a lot to look forward to,” the chief executive of the MWC, Dr Donald Lyons, told the BBC.

“She was getting married. She was being treated. She was undertaking voluntary work. She had a good social network.

“There wasn't anything else which we could identify that would lead us to believe that there was any other factor in her life that resulted in her decision to end her life.”

George Kappler, the MWC’s chief social work officer and chair of the investigation, said: “Ms DE should have been supported as a vulnerable claimant.  We found a lack of sensitivity to individual circumstances.

“We thought the assessment process was flawed and needs to change in order to be fair to individuals with mental health problems.

“We feel that these issues would apply to whichever service provider is doing the assessments, so the DWP need to be aware of this when the contract with Atos ends.”

The DWP responded to the watchdog’s concerns, saying that the Work Capability Assessment (WCA) was developed “in consultation with medical and other experts, including representative groups”.

The department said a series of reports had found “that overall the WCA works as intended and is a valid assessment relative to independent experts’ opinion about individuals’ fitness for work that can support decisions about who should be paid ESA (Employment and Support Allowance)”.

A spokesperson for Atos told BBC News: “We understand that applying for benefit can be a difficult and emotional time, which is why we work very hard to try to make the part of the process we are responsible for as comfortable as possible.

“The Work Capability Assessment was designed by the government as a way of assessing how an individual's disability or illness impacts on their day-to-day life. It is not designed to diagnose or treat a medical condition.

“In line with guidance from DW, so as not to overload the GP community, we will request further medical evidence only where this is likely to mean that a person will be eligible for benefit without the need for a face-to-face assessment. We do this in about a third of all cases.”

For confidential support call the Samaritans in the UK on 08457 90 90 90, visit a local Samaritans branch or click here for details

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Technical Author / Multimedia Writer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This recognized leader in providing software s...

Recruitment Genius: Clinical Lead / RGN

£40000 - £42000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: IT Sales Consultant

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support company has a n...

Recruitment Genius: Works Engineer

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: A works engineer is required in a progressive ...

Day In a Page

Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

The Arab Spring reversed

Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

Who is Oliver Bonas?

It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

60 years of Scalextric

Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

Why are we addicted to theme parks?

Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

Iran is opening up again to tourists

After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
10 best PS4 games

10 best PS4 games

Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

‘Can we really just turn away?’

Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

... and not just because of Isis vandalism
Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

Girl on a Plane

An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent