Losing the only source of income
When Errol Graham died alone in his flat in 2018, he was 57 years old. He weighed just 28kg and the only food he had available were two out of date tins of fish. He died of starvation. He had no utilities, having had both the gas and electricity cut off – he had also lost his benefits, his only source of income.
At the inquest into his death, assistant coroner Dr Elizabeth Didcock said: “The sudden loss of all income, and the threat of eviction that followed from it, will have caused huge distress and worry, and significant financial hardship.
“It is likely that this loss of income, and housing, were the final and devastating stressors that had a significant effect on his mental health.
“The safety net that should surround vulnerable people like Errol in our society had holes within it.”
Cutting off the benefits
Mr Graham’s family strongly criticised the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for failing to carry out their duties correctly and for allowing him, without proper assessment or review of the relevant facts, to have his benefits cut off.
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They said that he was known to be a highly vulnerable man with a complex mental illness and that his treatment highlights the need for an overhaul in how the DWP treat vulnerable people who are entirely reliant on benefits to live.
Annabel Kay who works with older and vulnerable people in our Wills Trusts and Estates team, said: “As lawyers, we see the outcome of many institutional failings and how these adversely affect our clients. This case highlights only too clearly what can go wrong when money is stopped. It cannot be enough surely, to take such action because someone is hard to assess or even resistant to assessment.
“I would recommend when we know we are going to be looking after someone who we know will struggle with some of the complex systems and organisations we have in the UK that concern benefits because of mental illness, educational difficulties or vulnerability of any kind, that we discuss having powers of attorney put in place.
“Things do go wrong in life, and if that starts to happen, a power of attorney means that someone has their back. Powers of attorney do not mean someone takes complete control of another person’s life if that is not wanted, but it does mean someone can talk to relevant agencies in times of crisis to prevent breakdown.
“Solicitors like me, with a particular interest in health and social care law, mental capacity and disability, know the nuances and pitfalls of the systems with which we must work, and we know how to deal with them. If you are worried about someone’s ability to manage their own needs, this is one way in which you can help.”