The relevance of Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) records is not limited to claims which show the claimant has received benefits as a result of a clinical negligence injury, or injury at work, but should also be considered even where a ‘nil’ Compensation Recovery Unit CRU certificate is received from the DWP. This is why:
What are DWP records?
The DWP is responsible for administering the state pension and a range of working age, disability and health benefits to over 22 million people.
Every new clinical negligence or personal injury claim needs to be registered with the DWP, and you will receive a CRU certificate setting out whether the claimant is receiving benefits as a result of the alleged negligence.
Benefits include carer’s allowance, attendance allowance, disability living allowance and personal independence payments. There are also employment benefits such as employment and support allowance and jobseekers allowance, but we will focus mainly on the care and disability payments.
It is possible to apply to receive copies of a claimant’s DWP records, with their consent. This can be either in the form of an overview of all the benefits they have ever received, or you can request all records relating to one type of benefit. Depending upon the type of benefit claimed there may be medical assessments contained within the records which can often provide useful personal accounts of the supposed limitations any disability is causing. Records will also set out the dates the benefits began, the reason why they are being paid, and the amount.
When should you consider obtaining them?
Perhaps unsurprisingly, claimants do not tend to volunteer that they received benefits for other conditions prior to the alleged negligence. This is something to be alive to and ideally something to consider early on during the litigation. If the claimant refuses to grant access then an application can be made to the court for specific disclosure, although this is rarely required. Consideration ought to be given:
- on receipt of a ‘nil’ CRU certificate – if there is reference in the records to the claimant receiving benefits this would suggest the benefits were required prior to the alleged negligence
- on receipt of a CRU certificate with benefits – it is still worth reviewing the records to assess whether the benefits have increased as a result of the alleged negligence
- on reviewing expert evidence – often experts will draw out information when they examine a claimant which may indicate a previous benefits history
The content of DWP records can significantly reduce the value of a claimant’s claim, if they have not been honest about prior medical conditions or have exaggerated the same either to the DWP to obtain benefits, or for greater financial gain through litigation. Two recent clinical negligence settlements highlight the savings that can be made:
Saving of over £600,000
In this example judgment had been entered for the claimant so we were investigating quantum only. The claimant initially valued the claim at around £200,000-£300,000, but refused to negotiate or make any offers early on. The final schedule came in at just over £800,000 with significant care and accommodation claims, and it seemed odd that the value of the claim had dramatically increased when her medical condition had not; exaggeration was suspected. There was nothing in the medical records regarding poor health prior to the negligence, nor any reference to DWP benefits. However the claimant told the care experts that she had received benefits due to ill-health, and with the CRU being nil it suggested that the benefits were in relation to another medical issue.
As this only came to light at a late stage a the form of authority was sent to the claimant, together with a part 18 request for further information regarding the benefits, with confirmation that an application for specific disclosure would follow. Shortly after sending this to the claimant solicitors our part 36 offer of £200,000 was accepted out of time. Clearly our suspicion regarding exaggeration was well-founded.
Saving of approximately £390,000
Judgment had been entered so we were dealing with quantum only. As a result of the admitted negligence the claimant was registered blind so this was always going to be a high value settlement. The GP records listed numerous co-morbid conditions but the medical and care experts considered the majority of his needs arose due to the blindness. However, on receipt of the care evidence it alluded to him receiving benefits, despite CRU being nil.
We requested the DWP records which were disclosed shortly before a settlement meeting. These records set out in extensive detail the extent of the disabilities he reported to the DWP, and the significant amount of care benefits he received for these health conditions prior to becoming blind. His co-morbid conditions had largely been dismissed by the claimant himself and the records in parts contradicted the evidence within the witness statements. At the settlement meeting he was forced to admit that he had required significant care and assistance prior to becoming blind, thus assisting in reducing the value of his claim from just under £810,000 as claimed, to £420,000.
As demonstrated in these examples, DWP records assist by highlighting any elements of exaggeration, or even fraud, and can be invaluable in reaching a fair settlement.