Errol Graham: Starved mans family loses High Court benefits case

Errol Graham: Starved mans family loses High Court benefits case

The family of a man who starved to death after his benefits were stopped has lost a High Court challenge against the government.

Errol Graham, 57, was found dead in his Nottingham flat by bailiffs in June 2018, eight months after his employment support allowance (ESA) was withdrawn.

His family argued the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) actions were unlawful and breached his human rights.

But Mr Justice Bourne ruled that the government had acted lawfully.

Mr Graham’s ESA ended in 2017 after he failed to attend a work capability assessment and did not respond to calls, letters or home visits from the DWP.

He had a history of mental health problems, and relatives said he “cut himself off from the world” after his benefits stopped.

At the inquest into Mr Graham’s death, the coroner said the loss of income was likely to have “caused huge distress”.

The DWP later updated its safeguarding policy, requiring staff to consider a home visit before withdrawing anyone’s benefits where there are “safeguarding concerns”.

Alison Turner, the fiancee of Mr Graham’s son, challenged the decision to stop his benefits, as well as the updated policy.

At a High Court hearing in January, she argued the policy’s requirement to show “good cause” for failing to attend an appointment unlawfully “placed the onus” on claimants.

The family also said it failed to impose “a duty to inquire” about why “benefits claimants suffering from mental illness are not engaging with the DWP”.

On Wednesday, Mr Justice Bourne said “the references in the policy to a burden of proof were lawful”.

He said the need for benefits claimants to show “good cause” for missing an appointment was not “a materially misleading impression of the law”.

He added that it was “obvious from the policy documents” the DWP had “due regard to the need to advance equality of opportunity between disabled and non-disabled people”.

The judge also dismissed Ms Turner’s challenge to the DWP’s decision to terminate Mr Graham’s benefits.

He ruled that “despite the tragic circumstances of this case… the claimant falls well short of establishing that the defendant failed to comply with” its duty to make reasonable inquiries into all relevant matters.

“The defendant’s officials were confronted with a complete cessation of contact by Mr Graham and an absence of any attempt by him to do anything to permit his ESA review to progress,” he said.

“Neither the legislation nor the defendant’s policy at the time mandated any further specific steps to be taken in that situation.”

He added that the DWP “conducted the inquiries which it considered reasonably necessary to find out whether there was a ‘good cause’ for his failure to attend the assessment, and Mr Graham sadly did not engage at all”.

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