DWP pays compensation over letters and PDFs sent to blind benefit claimants

High Court judgement finds in favour of Londoner Yusuf Ali Osman who brought case against department with support of charity

The Department for Work and Pensions has paid thousands of pounds in compensation to a blind benefits claimant who was consistently sent communications he was unable to read despite repeated requests for updates in accessible formats.

Access consultant Yusuf Ali Osman took DWP to the High Court with the support of charity the Royal National Institute of Blind People and successfully argued the department was in breach of its legal obligation to communicate with blind and visually impaired people in an accessible manner.

Osman, who is from south London, said DWP continued to send him information about his disability and employment benefits in printed hard copy letters or as scanned inaccessible PDFs attached to emails that he was unable to read or translate with Screenreader software. He received some letters from the DWP in braille, but said they were often many weeks late, putting him in danger of missing important deadlines.

The High Court backed Osman and declared DWP had discriminated against registered blind and sight impaired people receiving Personal Independent Payments and Employment and Support Allowance who requested alternative communication formats before September last year.

It said the department’s failure to make reasonable adjustments to its policy of sending hard-copy letters was a breach of the Equality Act 2010.

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As a result of the judgment, DWP agreed to apologise to Osman, pay £7,000 in compensation, and cover his legal costs in bringing the case. The department also agreed to update Osman with its progress in updating its communications processes for blind and partially-sighted people – and to invite him to take part in the testing process for its technical solutions.

Osman said DWP clearly lacked a system to consistently identify, record and share disabled people’s communication preferences, meaning inaccessible or unreasonably delayed correspondence was an ongoing issue.

“The DWP needs to take more radical steps, such as new IT systems, to guarantee it will improve the way it communicates with blind and visually impaired people,” he said. “I can only hope that they improve their practices in future or I may be forced to take further action.”

Kate Egerton of legal firm Leigh Day, which represented Osman, said the High Court ruling highlighted how DWP had repeatedly ignored complaints from blind and visually-impaired people over its failure to send accessible correspondence.

“Equality legislation is clear that the DWP should communicate with disabled people in a manner that enables them to access important information about their benefits on an equal basis to everyone else,” she said. “This judicial review has established that the DWP was acting unlawfully in the way it communicates with blind and partially-sighted benefits claimants. We remain unconvinced that the steps the DWP has taken since this claim was started are sufficient to meet its legal obligations and have reserved the right to bring this matter back to court in future if matters do not improve.”

RNIB senior legal adviser Samantha Fothergill said Osman’s case was “one of many” complaints the organisation had received about DWP’s failure to provide communications in accessible formats.

“DWP need to do better for people living with sight loss and we hope this judgement will incentivise them to ensure their communications are accessible,” she said.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are sorry for falling short in meeting our accessibility requirements in this instance. We have already made changes to improve this, and will continue to work with our disabled customers to offer them the best possible service.”

Jim Dunton

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