In 2016, Clive Johnson was falsely accused of benefit fraud twice by DWP. They later classed it as an ‘administrative error’, but his sister, Trudi believes that the DWP’s conduct was the triggering factor in the deterioration of her brother’s mental health and suicide.
Clive was born with severe physical health problems which affected him throughout his life requiring regular hospitalisations and surgery. He also suffered from depression as a consequence of his physical challenges but despite that he had a real zest for life. The year leading up to June 2016 was his most positive since 2007 when he underwent life changing surgery.
Clive and I were extremely close, in many ways, like twins. We shared a deep bond and he depended on me for company and support emotionally and practically.
In June 2016, Clive received a letter from the DWP with the heading ‘About benefits – investigating fraud’. It said they were conducting an investigation into alleged criminal offenses in relation to a benefit claim, that it was a ‘very serious matter’ and they needed to discuss this with Clive ‘urgently’. The letter invited him to an interview ‘under caution’. Clive was required to respond within 7 days or face suspension, loss of benefit, potential arrest or a court appearance.
The letter read as though Clive was guilty unless he could prove his innocence, yet the DWP refused to provide any information on why they were investigating fraud either to Clive or his solicitor who contacted them in advance of the interview. Only at the interview several weeks later was the allegation made clear, and the DWP accepted they had made an administrative mistake.
Notwithstanding the DWP confirming their error, the letter sent Clive into a spiral of depression and shame about his need to rely on benefits. He felt he didn’t deserve anything and found fault with himself constantly. He convinced himself he would end up in prison and lost any ability to think rationally.
Unbelievably, the DWP compounded their initial error by sending him a second letter six months later calling him for a ‘compliance telephone interview’ to investigate him for the same matter. Both accusations were down to the DWP not recording the fact that Clive had received compensation for a road traffic incident which pushed his savings above the cap, which he had reported to them.
They stopped paying his benefits until his savings dropped to below the cap then subsequently told him that he was in fact entitled to remain on benefits and keep the amount he had been compensated. I can’t understand how the DWP could make the same serious mistake twice. The second letter simply reinforced Clive’s view that he must be guilty.
In the weeks following the second letter, Clive’s behaviour became increasingly erratic and culminated in a severe psychotic episode after which I had him admitted to hospital for assessment.
For a couple of months, Clive’s mood altered into a manically happy one but this was another altered state from the Clive I knew. By the summer, he began drinking and neglecting himself. He became convinced he would be continue to be targeted by the DWP and told me he had spent the previous week researching suicide but reassured me he would not take his own life. His suicidal thoughts and paranoia continued daily. On some days he was calmer but remained very vulnerable and his insomnia and negative view of himself increased dramatically.
By the time Clive ended his life, he had lost all belief in himself and was unable to take any comfort from his consultants, GP, friends or family that he was supported by them. He convinced himself he was guilty and pushed away those closest to him. He exited this world believing he deserved the worst and that if he didn’t end his life he would take his loved ones down with him so it was the only option. His suicide letters made reference to his fears regarding the DWP.
The DWP deal with some of the most vulnerable people in society, like Clive. If there’s anything positive to come out of Clive’s death there should be a recognition by the DWP that they are dealing with vulnerable people and they need to have systems in place to safeguard them and prevent further deaths or harm to others.
The DWP must give families like mine, the answers we deserve.
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We’re calling for a full public inquiry and investigation of future cases of deaths and serious harm in the benefit system. If this has impacted you or a loved one, please share your experiences with us confidentially.