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Deaf man awarded £50,000 after 'oppressive' and 'discriminatory' treatment by DWP

'This is the sort of conduct which anyone in receipt of services from a Jobcentre would fear, that if job coaches or others are challenged, there will be reprisals,' an employment tribunal found

dwp jobcentre

Park Place Jobcentre in Leeds, where Paul Rimmer claims he faced "discrimination". Image: Google Maps

A deaf man has been awarded nearly £50,000 in damages by an employment tribunal for “oppressive” and “wrongful” treatment by staff at the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Paul Rimmer, from West Yorkshire, is profoundly deaf and his first language is British Sign Language (BSL). He has no spoken English and basic reading and writing ability.

The tribunal found that the Jobcentre failed to provide Rimmer with BSL interpreters on a number of occasions between 2017 and 2023, when he was claiming jobseeker’s allowance (JSA).

A disability employment advisor attempted to block Rimmer from receiving more intensive employment support and suggested increased use of sanctions to push him into work.

It comes as the government continues its drive to push disabled people into work, with plans to eradicate a so-called “sick-note culture” through punitive tactics and a tightened disability benefits system. It claims the disability benefits bill is too costly.

Rimmer said in his witness statement: “I do feel that the Jobcentre and the DWP have not wanted to help me because it is too difficult and too expensive for them. I also feel that most DWP staff do not understand the difficulties facing me as a profoundly deaf person.”

Rimmer was sanctioned in 2017 and had his benefits suspended for two weeks because there was a “lack of evidence” that he was seeking work. He claimed this was because interpretation and the help he needed with writing in English to complete job applications was insufficient.

The tribunal found there was no evidence of a “direction” being given at Rimmer’s appointment, such as telling him that he would need to complete a certain number of job applications. Rimmer also alleged that the interpreter was “poorly qualified”.

But the DWP denied this, saying the sanction had “nothing to do” with “interpretation difficulties”, and that the interprertor had been arranged through usual means.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the Park Place Jobcentre in Leeds is accused of “discriminating” against Rimmer by failing to provide services. Between March 2020 and May 2021, he was treated similarly to other JSA claimants, who were not required to attend meetings either remotely or in person.

But from May 2021, there are “facts which demonstrate that the job coach inviting him to the telephone
meeting did not understand his deafness”. Work coaches who gave evidence had little equalities training, and none had deaf-awareness training.

“Had he been able to speak English he would have been able to take part in telephone contact,” the tribunal found. There was no provision for BSL speakers at job coach appointments until later in 2021.

The tribunal also considered an incident when Rimmer was seeking a referral to a more intensive support programme to help him find work.

A disability employment adviser (DEA), who had never met Rimmer, attempted to block the referral and suggested instead that work coaches should deal with Mr Rimmer “firmly” and with sanctions.

The adviser wrote in August 2022: “Mr Rimmer’s main barrier isn’t his lack of hearing? His actions would support that he is actually one of the groups of customers who specifically is described as not suitable for DEA direct support.”

They went on to cite examples including having a “health condition which is well managed and is not actually a barrier to employment” and “have indicated they do not wish to engage and who have indicated they do not wish to work”.

“Therefore I feel he actually needs firm work coaching and if coach needs support to do things like issue directions and sanction doubts they need to consult with their work coach team leader,” they added.

It was found that the conduct of the advisor constituted “oppressive” and “wrongful” behaviour which breached the Equality Act.

The tribunal found: “It was also conduct which deterred legitimate complaint from a vulnerable person. This from a person expected to have good knowledge of the challenges and circumstances of disabled
customers.

“On this occasion he indicated withdrawal of his help and denigration of the claimant. This is the sort of email or conduct which anyone in receipt of services from a Jobcentre would fear, that if job coaches or others are challenged, there will be reprisals. That is all the more so for the claimant who continues to attend and use its job seeking services.”



The tribunal awarded Rimmer £33,000 due to “injury to feelings”, which included £5,000 in aggravated damages. A further £10,000 in “exemplary damages” was awarded specifically in respect of the email sent about him by the disability employment advisor.

He was also awarded £6,880 because of “non-pecuniary loss”, which includes physical and emotional pain, distress, inconvenience and other intangible losses. It takes the total awarded to Rimmer to £49,880.

Nick Whittingham, chief executive at Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre, which represented Rimmer, said: “This case shines a light on the way that disabled benefits claimants are treated by the DWP, and is particularly important in light of current political rhetoric.

“The indications are that failings are systemic and that provision for supporting deaf and other disabled people is limited both by funding constraints and by an institutional failure to understand, or even attempt to understand, their needs.”

Rimmer said he wanted to find work but feels unsupported. He said in his statement: “I feel like, if I could find work I could start to live my life more fully. I would have more self-esteem and be able to have better relationships and a better quality of life. I want to be able to contribute and find my place in the world, but at the moment, unfortunately that doesn’t seem possible. I am trying to stay positive.”

John Horan, barrister at Cloisters Chambers, added: “In light of the prime minister’s recent comments that all disabled jobseekers should find a job within a year, this should be a wake-up call to ministers responsible for the jobseeker’s programme.

“In an Orwellian ‘1984’ scenario, a disability employment advisor, who should be there to assist disabled claimants, has been shown to have been actively targeting disabled people and attempting to block access to assistance programmes and even to the benefit itself, because the claimant had raised legitimate complaints.”

The DWP has been recommended to provide training to staff at Park Place Jobcentre in deaf awareness and key concepts around disability discrimination including victimisation. It also recommends that the Jobcentre should be willing to reassure deaf people about the qualifications of interpreters.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are considering this judgment. We are committed to providing accessible services to ensure customers who need extra assistance can access our help.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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