DWP blasted for ‘grotesque’ hospital visits in Islington

A file image of a job centre. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Archive

A file image of a job centre. Picture: Philip Toscano/PA Archive - Credit: PA Wire/PA Images

Councillors have blasted the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for the “grotesque and unbelievable” practice of visiting benefit claimants in hospital.

Islington’s Policy and Performance Scrutiny Committee, which has been tracking the full rollout of Universal Credit in Islington since June, published a review earlier this month. It reveals DWP officers have been pursuing sick claimants while in hospital.

Universal Credit is an online-only system of monthly payments, which replaces six working age benefits, including Job Seeker’s Allowance and Housing Benefit.

The committee’s vice chair, Cllr Troy Gallagher, told the Gazette: “The fact that the DWP send people out to the hospital to interview and pursue people sends the wrong message.

“When people are in hospital they are not there to be chased and it’s not for the DWP to guess or validate if they are well or unwell. I think it’s callous.

“It’s an issue they need to amend quickly because it’s highly stressful and deeply upsetting.”

In one instance, he said DWP officers visited a person in hospital because they had missed an appointment. The person was in hospital for an operation.

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Cllr Gallagher added: “It’s grotesque and unbelievable.

“If someone says they’re unwell, whatever the reason is, you should always accept that.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “Jobcentre staff occasionally conduct hospital visits to confirm people’s bank account or rent details. This ensures we can pay their full benefits on time.”

They added that visits to claimants homes will be made “if necessary”.

At the end of January, 1,795 Islington tenants had claimed for Universal Credit. Of these, 1,390 (or about 77 per cent) were in rent arrears with a total debt of £1,749,08.

But this includes debt accrued prior to people moving onto Universal Credit and the DWP say the “reasons for rent arrears are complex”, and it would be wrong to attribute them to any one cause”.