Mum-of-four ‘found dead in hat and scarf’ in freezing flat ‘after benefits cut’

A mum-of-four died alone at home and was found freezing "in her coat and scarf" after she passed away, according to a report.

Elaine Morrall, 44, tragically died in 2017 at her home in Cheshire, England following her frequent contact with the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

The mum's heart-breaking death was among 144 reviews carried out by the DWP.

According to her mum Linda, Elaine couldn’t afford to put the heating on after her benefits had been stopped multiple times including when she missed a Universal Credit interview because she was in intensive care, the Liverpool Echo reports.

Warrington Coroner’s Office told the Liverpool Echo in 2018 the matter did not go to an inquest as her death was ruled to have been due to "natural causes".

Now, an investigation carried out by the BBC Shared Data Unit has unearthed DWP records showing Elaine’s tragedy was not an isolated incident.

It was among 144 internal reviews carried out by the DWP between 2012 and July 2019, when Justin Thompson MP, minister for disabled people, health and work, said an additional six reviews would be "conducted shortly".

These reviews take place when there is a "suggestion or allegation" that the DWP’s actions had a negative impact.

Investigations are also held when the DWP thinks lessons can be learned about its processes and a claimant has died or suffered serious harm including by suicide or attempted suicide, or when it has been named as an "interested party" at an inquest or the DWP is asked to participate in a Safeguarding Adults Board.

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Copies of internal reviews that began after July 2019 suggest fatal mistakes continued to be made.

The DWP will not reveal the identities of the people or cases subject to these internal reviews.

However, the data unit sifted through press reports naming 82 individuals who died after some alleged DWP activity such as termination of benefits over the same time period.

Mental health vulnerabilities were a contributing factor in 35 of those people’s deaths.

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Many of these individuals took their own lives or were even discovered after having starved to death.

Others died within days of being found fit to work, by the Government’s Work Capability Assessment (WCA) process, which determines if claimants are entitled to sickness or out-of-work benefits.

Since 2014, four Prevention of Future Death (PFD) reports have been issued to the DWP by coroners following inquests into the deaths of benefits claimants.

Coroners have a legal duty to issue these reports if they believe action should be taken to prevent a future death.

One PFD report was submitted to the DWP after the death of single mum Philippa Day, of Nottingham after a coroner found 28 errors were made in managing her case.

The 27-year-old took a fatal overdose in 2019 after her benefits payments were cut.

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Secretary of State for Work and Pensions Thérèse Coffey maintains the DWP, "does not have a duty of care or statutory safeguarding duty".

But human rights specialist Tessa Gregory, partner at Leigh Day said there was a "dissonance" between the DWP's legal stance and its role in some instances providing the sole income for vulnerable people.

She said: "When DWP decision making goes wrong it can, as we have seen in far too many cases have devastating and sometimes fatal consequences, so it is vital that decisions are taken with full regard to a person’s disability.

"The case for reform is clear as we desperately need a benefits system which serves to support, rather than endanger, the lives of vulnerable individuals."

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Labour MP Debbie Abrahams told the BBC there should be an independent inquiry into the scale and number of deaths allegedly linked to DWP activity.

She said: "These deaths have definitely not received the attention they should have. I believe that the ones that you have collated are just the tip of the iceberg.

"There’s too often an assumption that these deaths are from natural causes.

"That there has been such a lack of openness and transparency to enable us to properly examine reports on all deaths is a disgrace.

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"There needs to be an independent inquiry investigating why these deaths are happening and the scale of the deaths needs to be properly understood."

A DWP spokesperson said: "We support millions of people a year and our priority is that they get the benefits to which they are entitled promptly and receive a supportive and compassionate service.

"In the vast majority of cases this happens but when, sadly, there is a tragic case we take it very seriously."

They went on: "In those circumstances, it’s absolutely right we carry out an internal review to check if the correct processes were followed and identify any lessons learned to inform future policy and service."

Manchester Evening News has also reported that revealed that DWP has carried out at least 150 reviews after people claiming benefits died or came to serious harm.

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