Woman, 81, killed herself after pension was frozen in error

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Woman, 81, killed herself after pension was frozen in error

An 81-year-old woman killed herself after running out of money when her pension was frozen due to a DWP administrative error.

Joy Worrall, 81, was too proud to tell her family about her financial troubles and took her own life, as she had always threatened to do if she had major health or money worries.

At her inquest in Ruthin, north Wales, on Thursday, her son Ben Worrall said his mother had only £5 in her account on her death, having apparently spent all of her £5,000 savings after her pension was frozen.

He said his mother, who lived in the village of Rhes-y-cae, had been fit and well but kept things to herself if anything bothered her, adding that he spoke to her three or four times a week and last talked to her on 19 November last year.

Two days later, after a friend contacted him to ask where his mother was, he went to her cottage and raised the alarm when he could not find her. Her car was also missing.

A police search was launched and a helicopter scrambled. The following morning members of a search and rescue team found her body at the foot of a quarry.

Mr Worrall found out that his mother, a divorcee, had been receiving a state pension topped up by pension credits. She had told the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) in 2014 that she had received an inheritance.

In July 2017, her situation was reassessed. Instead of only her credits being frozen, her entire pension was stopped, with the result that she had no income at all. The DWP told Mr Worrall that her basic pension should have continued but had not done so due to an “administrative error”.

John Gittins, senior coroner for North Wales (East and Central), concluded that Ms Worrall had killed herself.

Mr Worrall said her death was a shock as there were so many unanswered questions, but when he investigated his mother’s affairs and contacted the DWP he realised what had happened.

Joy, a divorcee, who had been receiving a state pension and pension credits told the Department in 2014 that she had received a recent inheritance. Nothing changed, but in July, 2017, her case was re-assessed and ‘action was taken to suspend her pension credit.

However, instead of only freezing her credits, her entire pension was stopped, with the result that she had no income whatsoever. In a letter of explanation to Mr Worrall, Suzanne Mitchelson, the DWP’s complaints resolution manager, said the two pensions should have been ‘decombined’ and her basic pension continued.

She wrote:

‘I am sorry to say that due to an administrative error this did not happen.’

Recording a conclusion of suicide, John Gittins, coroner for North Wales East and Central, said it was important that he heard the background, but added:

‘It would be inappropriate for me to comment further.’ After the hearing Mr Worrall said:

‘My mother was a proud woman who was simply left without any capital.’

He said he had raised the issue with David Hanson to try to ensure that no-one else found themselves in the same position. He added: ‘I feel we have been let down by the DWP who have failed in their duty of care. It’s a disgrace how this can happen in modern society and what concerns me is that this could happen to someone else.’

A DWP spokesman said:

“Our thoughts are with the family and friends of Mrs Worrall. We apologise unreservedly to Mrs Worrall’s family for the error that led to her pension payments being stopped and pledge to learn the lessons.”

The Labour MP for Delyn, David Hanson, said: “With the support of and at the request of the family I have asked [the DWP] to urgently review this verdict.”

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