A CUMBRIAN coroner has raised concerns about the universal credit system following the tragic death of a man last year.

Kirsty Gomersal, the area coroner for Cumbria, has written to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) saying that their procedures may not be 'practical' for those with mental health illness and can 'exacerbate symptoms' after the death of Kevin Gale, of Langton Court, Penrith, in 2022.

Following an inquest on November 2, which heard that he was 'anxious' about his universal credit application in the days leading up to his death, the coroner concluded that Mr Gale's death was suicide.

In a prevention of future deaths report, Ms Gomersal summarised the facts.

Mr Gale was detained under Section 2 of the Mental Health Act in November 2021 and was discharged on January 4, 2022. He was diagnosed with severe depression and anxiety.

He was 'compliant with his medication and engaged with services', and was 'well supported by his family and friends', the report said.

On March 2, two days before his death, Mr Gale was seen by an associate specialist psychiatrist, who gave evidence at the inquest.

The psychiatrist considered Mr Gale’s anxiety was exacerbated by his application for universal credit.

During Mr Gale’s appointment, the psychiatrist called the benefits office for help, but the call was not answered before the end of the consultation and Mr Gale was then expecting a call from a DWP representative the next day.

The day after, at approximately 11am, Mr Gale spoke to the duty registered mental health nurse. He remained very anxious, and his 'main concern was the application for universal credit'.

During their evidence, the psychiatrist expressed concerns about the experience of mental health service users with DWP, though these concerns were not just specific to Mr Gale, according to the report.

The coroner’s matter for concern is that current DWP procedures may not be practical for those with mental health illness and can exacerbate symptoms.

She said she heard evidence that:
1.     The number of and length of DWP forms required to be completed can be overwhelming for someone with a mental health illness. This is perpetuated if the applicant cannot get help to complete the paperwork.
2.     There are long telephone queues to speak to a DWP advisor.
3.     Having to travel long distances for appointments can be detrimental for those with a mental health illness.

Though she added: "I stress that I did not make a causal link between Mr Gale’s death and his anxiety about his Universal Credit application."

The DWP was not an 'interested person' in Mr Gale’s inquest and did not give evidence as the concerns raised by the coroner did not come to light until the hearing.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson told the News & Star: “Our condolences are with Mr Gale’s family.

“We will review the coroner’s report and respond in due course.”

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