Shropshire

Capita to pay damages to family of woman denied benefits

Victoria Smith Image copyright Family handout
Image caption Victoria Smith died last July, before a tribunal overturned the decision to stop her benefit

A family whose daughter died after being denied the main disability benefit have been awarded £10,000 in damages.

Victoria Smith, 33, of Market Drayton, passed away last July just weeks after being told she was not eligible for Personal Independence Payments (PIP).

Her family sued Capita for making inaccurate statements on Ms Smith's health assessment.

Capita told the BBC it stood by the original decision.

Ms Smith's mother, Sue Kemlo, told the BBC: "If they hadn't cut her PIP, my daughter would still be here."

Ms Smith suffered from agoraphobia and fibromyalgia, which left her body in constant pain.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) wrote to her in early 2018 to tell her she needed to be re-assessed for the benefit, which is intended to help with the additional costs of having a disability.

As part of the process, in March she was assessed at home by a healthcare professional employed by Capita.

The assessment led the DWP to decide Ms Smith was no longer eligible for PIP, a conclusion her mother said "was a pack of lies".

Ms Smith immediately appealed, but was again turned down by the DWP. She received the decision in June, shortly after she was admitted to hospital.

The decision "destroyed" her, said Mrs Kemlo.

"When they took away her ability to look after herself, to have a way of life, she gave up."

'Admit they were wrong'

On 8 July, Ms Smith died of a brain haemorrhage, but doctors told the family her underlying conditions, particularly the fibromyalgia, had deteriorated as well.

The week after she died, a tribunal decided she was eligible for PIP.

Furious with the conclusions the Capita employee had reached, Mrs Kemlo took legal action against the company for maladministration; in essence making inaccurate statements.

The family has now been awarded £10,000 in damages.

"I didn't do it for the money," said Mrs Kemlo. "I did it for them to admit they were wrong, to get some justice for my daughter, because (it's) only ever been about justice for Victoria."

In a statement, Capita told the BBC: "We offer our deepest condolences to the family in this very tragic case.

"We have reviewed this at a senior clinical level and we are confident that our report was correct based on the information presented to us at the time of the assessment.

"Our full response to the claim was not considered by the Court as a result of a procedural issue, and as a consequence judgment in default has been entered into against us.

"We have asked the Court to investigate the procedural issue and we are expecting a response from the Court shortly."

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