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Friday, 10th May 2024

Profoundly Deaf man victim of DWP’s “institutional failure”

A Tribunal has branded the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) behaviour toward a disabled claimant ‘oppressive’ and discriminatory, ordering it to pay him significant damages.

The Employment Tribunal has awarded Paul Rimmer, of West Yorkshire, nearly £50,000 in damages for his mistreatment by the DWP over a period of 6 years. This sum is in the highest band of awards, reserved for the most serious level of injury. He was advised by the Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre, and represented by barrister John Horan.

Mr Rimmer is profoundly Deaf and, like many others, his first language is British Sign Language (BSL). He has no spoken English and only very basic reading and writing ability. He attended the Jobcentre Plus at Park Place in Leeds as part of the requirements for receipt of Jobseeker’s Allowance (JSA) and to find work.

However, Mr Rimmer did not find the support he needed. In fact, between 2017 and 2023, the Jobcentre repeatedly failed to provide him with BSL interpreters when he visited—an adjustment that is required by law. In 2017, he was sanctioned and had his Jobseeker’s Allowance stopped after he ended a meeting because he had been provided with a poorly-qualified interpreter.

Things deteriorated during the Covid-19 pandemic. During and after lockdowns, the Jobcentre discriminated against Mr Rimmer by failing to provide services at all. While claimants could get in touch through video calls, those were refused to Mr Rimmer.

The Tribunal also considered a particularly troubling incident. Mr Rimmer had sought a referral to a more intensive support programme to help him find work. Internal emails have shown how a Disability Employment Adviser (DEA), who had never met him, but was aware that he had made complaints about failures to provide interpreters, was actively hostile toward him.

The Adviser tried to block the referral. Instead, he suggested that work coaches should single out Mr Rimmer and deal with him “firmly” and with directions and sanctions. The Tribunal found that the Adviser’s behaviour was “oppressive” and breached the Equality Act, writing:

“It was also conduct which deterred legitimate complaint from a vulnerable person… this is the sort of email or conduct which anyone in receipt of services from a Jobcentre would fear, that if job coaches or others are challenged, there will be reprisals.”

The judgment was aptly delivered during Deaf Awareness Week. In it, the Tribunal also recommended that the DWP provide training to the work coaches, team leaders and DEAs working at Leeds Park Place Jobcentre within six months.

In his witness statement to the Tribunal, Paul Rimmer said:

"I do feel that the Jobcentre and the DWP have not wanted to help me because it is too difficult and too expensive for them. I also feel that most DWP staff do not understand the difficulties facing me as a profoundly Deaf person."

Nick Whittingham, Chief Executive at Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre said:

"This case shines a light on the way that disabled benefits claimants are treated by the DWP, and is particularly important in light of recent political rhetoric. The indications are that failings are systemic and that provision for supporting deaf and other disabled people is limited both by funding constraints and by an institutional failure to understand, or even attempt to understand, their needs."

John Horan, barrister at Cloisters Chambers, said:

"In light of the Prime Minister’s recent comments that all disabled jobseekers should find a job within a year, this should be a wake-up call to ministers responsible for the Jobseeker’s programme. In an Orwellian ‘1984’ scenario, a Disability Employment Advisor, who should be there to assist disabled claimants, has been shown to have been actively targeting disabled people and attempting to block access to assistance programmes and even to the benefit itself, because the claimant had raised legitimate complaints."

Read the full judgement.

For media enquiries, please contact media@lawcentres.org.uk

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