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Profoundly deaf man victim of DWP’s “institutional failure”  

Profoundly deaf man victim of DWP’s “institutional failure”  

Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre client, Mr Paul Rimmer, has been awarded nearly £50,000 by an Employment Tribunal for his treatment by the Department for Work and Pensions over a period of 6 years.  

Mr Rimmer is profoundly deaf and his first language is British Sign Language (BSL). He has no spoken English and only very basic reading and writing ability. Mr Rimmer attended the Job Centre Plus at Park Place in Leeds as part of the requirements for receipt of Job Seeker’s Allowance and to find work. 

Between 2017 and 2023, it was found that Park Place repeatedly failed to provide Mr Rimmer with BSL interpreters. In 2017, Mr Rimmer was sanctioned after a meeting using a poorly qualified interpreter where he could not provide evidence that he was looking for work. 

Things got worse with the arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic. During and after lockdowns, Park Place discriminated against Mr Rimmer by failing to provide services at all. While video conferencing options were available, they were refused to Mr Rimmer.  

The Tribunal also considered a particularly troubling incident when Mr 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 Mr Rimmer, but was aware that he had made complaints about failures to provide interpreters, attempted to block the referral and suggested instead that work coaches should deal with Mr Rimmer “firmly” and with directions and sanctions—i.e. to punish him. 

It was found that the conduct of the Disability Employment Advisor constituted “oppressive” behaviour which breached the Equality Act. The Tribunal noted its pernicious effect: 

“It was also conduct which deterred legitimate complaint from a vulnerable person… this is the sort of email or conduct which anyone in receipt of services from a job centre would fear, that if job coaches or others are challenged, there will be reprisals.” 

Mr Rimmer’s award reached the highest band, reserved for the most serious level of injury. The Tribunal recommended that the DWP provide training to the work coaches, team leaders and DEAs working at Leeds Park Place Job Centre within six months. 

In his witness statement to the Tribunal, Mr Rimmer said: 

“I do feel that the Job Centre 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.” 

Nick Whittingham, Chief Executive at Kirklees Citizens Advice and Law Centre 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.” 

John Horan, barrister at Cloisters Chambers, said: 

“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.” 

It is fitting that this Judgement has been delivered in Deaf Awareness Week.