Leiston man, 50, died after being unable to cope with changes to benefits
PUBLISHED: 13:00 11 December 2015
A 50-year-old man from Leiston with a history of anxiety took his own life after changes to his benefits left him unable to cope, an inquest heard yesterday.
Stephen Smith, of Seaward Avenue, took his own life on January 17 this year, following a long period of mental health problems.
Changes to the benefits system in June last year meant that Mr Smith was invited to submit a Personal Independent Payment (PIP) claim, as his disability allowance was about to expire.
But after the Department of Work and Pensions ruled that he was ineligible, Mr Smith and his partner Lucy Stewart, who was also on benefits relating to a learning disability, saw their weekly total cut by £137.55, and left the 50-year-old in depair over his financial situation.
However, a follow-up call from the DWP explaining its decision did not take place, prompting Mr Smith to send a formal letter to reconsider the assessment in November with the help of the Disability Advice Centre..
A second error at the DWP in December resulted in Mr Smith’s details being updated, before his appeal was mistakenly closed down before it had been labelled for reconsideration. The DWP in its statement said it admitted that errors had been made.
At the inquest in IP-City Centre Ipswich yesterday, Miss Stewart’s father David said the ensuing anxiety and reduced payments were the triggers for Mr Smith’s suicide.
The inquest also heard that Mr Smith had begun mental health treatment in 2000 after the death of his mother, but had been stable in recent years before anxiety over his benefits caused his symptoms to become worse.
Assistant coroner Nigel Parsley said: “I do find it a truly tragic case. Lucy was a real positive factor in his life and that kept him on an even keel for a considerable part of the time, but I cannot ignore the fact that he suffered from mental illness and had admitted suicidal thoughts.”
A conclusion was recorded that Mr Smith had taken his own life.
Mr Parsley added that while the DWP had admitted to errors, they were mistakes in procedure and were not a breach of its legal duty.
At the inquest, Mr Stewart said that Mr Smith’s anxiety and reaction to change meant he was unable to cope with the changes.
“For Stephen in his condition he could not understand there were savings he could make, things were very distressing,” he said.
The DWP confirmed that the follow-up calls no longer take place, and a retrospective review after Mr Smith’s death revealed no change in its decision.