The climbdown by Capita, which tried to reverse the ‘reputational damage’ it claimed to have suffered after a benefits’ claimant died, should herald a new and more sympathetic way for assessing benefits, Unite, Britain and Ireland’s largest union, said today (Thursday August 8).
Benefit assessment company Capita has withdrawn its legal challenge, after a campaign by Unite supporting Susan Kemlo, the mother of Victoria Smith, a Unite community member. Victoria died months after her personal independence payments (PIPs) were stopped following a Capita assessment.
Mrs Kemlo was subsequently awarded £10,410 after legal action against Capita for maladministration – it was this judgment that Capita was trying to overturn until its climbdown today. The money will now be paid to Mrs Kemlo.
In support of Mrs Kemlo, Unite community branch secretary for Stoke and North Staffordshire, Duncan Walker amassed 800 pages of evidence relating to Victoria’s case. Ms Smith from Stoke on Trent, who had agoraphobia and fibromyalgia, died, aged 33, in July last year.
“Despite the tragic circumstances of Victoria Smith’s case, we hope that Capita and other companies contracted to assess benefit claimants, on behalf of the government, will now adopt a new and more sympathetic approach to assessing claimants,” said Unite head of community Liane Groves.
‘Not isolated incident’
“Unfortunately, this case is not an isolated incident. Unite Community has an 80 per cent success rate in helping claimants with their PIP appeals. All too often the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the private profit-driven companies that carry out work capability assessments choose to ignore expert medical evidence.
“I would like to pay tribute to Susan Kemlo for the courage and tenacity she has shown in pursuing justice in her daughter’s case – this is a massive victory. We must all now work harder to ensure that what happened to Victoria is never repeated.
“This is the message that Unite is strongly giving to Work and Pensions secretary Amber Rudd, as making a claim for benefits is stressful at the best of times and even worse if you are suffering from life-threatening conditions.”
She concluded, “I would also like to pay tribute to Unite community branch secretary Duncan Walker who gathered 800 pages of evidence relating to our community member Victoria – it was a painstaking and diligent task carried out with dedication and great attention to detail.”