A traumatised mum who repeatedly told benefits officials she had been sexually assaulted is taking legal action against the government.
The woman ate beans on toast for a fortnight during a months-long battle to get her full entitlement of Universal Credit.
She told the Mirror she contemplated suicide during her struggle to get the £236-a-month “child element” for her third child – who she says was conceived in an attack on her by an ex-partner in 2019.
UC claimants can only get the “child element” for two children under Tory cuts – but children born of sexual offences are exempt.
Ministers have insisted claims for third children under the controversial ‘rape clause’ are handled sensitively.
But the mum, in her 30s, claims she had to tell more than 10 staff members about her situation in up to 20 phone calls.
An internal Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) investigation confirmed she “had to explain [her] personal situation” to multiple call handlers and there were “several missed opportunities” to give her a single point of contact.
Yet she was offered just £100 in compensation by the DWP, which apologised “if” she was made to feel uncomfortable.
Her lawyers Leigh Day, who have sent a ‘pre-action’ legal letter to the government, argue the DWP breached the Equality Act and her right to a private life under the Human Rights Act.
The woman is fighting for compensation and a promise that processes will change permanently.
She told the Mirror: “I want to make sure they change their policy because no victim at all should have to go through what I did.”
The mum, from Yorkshire, first told benefits officials in June 2019 she had been the victim of sexual assault by a past partner. She told the Mirror she was the victim of multiple offences, including the one which conceived her son.
She reported the incident to police and her lawyers say a criminal case is ongoing.
But despite her son’s birth in October 2019, she told the Mirror it took until March 2020 for her to receive the child element of Universal Credit for him – not helped by repeatedly explaining her situation to the DWP.
The DWP investigation said there was one incident where the call handler had no record of previous contact apart from her rent.
She also spoke of her history in a meeting with a work coach, but the DWP found “notes are sparse” about what was said.
“It was every time I called up,” she told the Mirror. “I’d say ‘can you look at the notes on the system please, I don’t want to have to go through it again’, and they’d say ‘why are you claiming the third child element?’.”
Her lawyers’ letter to the DWP adds: “Every time she contacted [the DWP] she had to explain the traumatic circumstance of [her son’s] conception and the impact upon her.”
She added: “In November 2019 I had to call every two to three days and had to go over it and over it and over it.
“I drove to a bridge in November. I didn’t take my phone. It wasn’t a cry for help. I literally just got in my car and I drove and I got out.
“I wish it was my children that stopped me from jumping, but it wasn’t. It was the stupidest of thoughts… I didn’t want to land on someone else’s car and give them PTSD and have them have to go through the same thing.”
The DWP’s internal investigation indicated one issue was that she became classed as having limited capability for work, which has a three month in-built delay.
She attended a Jobcentre in March 2020 – the first time she had left the house without another adult for almost six months – but said she had a “full panic attack” and left to wait in the snow after being asked to queue with men.
“They had me queuing with two men in front of me and a man behind me,” she said. “By the time I got to the desk I was already crying and shaking.”
Another Jobcentre staff member later helped her after seeing her outside in the cold.
The woman was already receiving UC and disability benefit PIP, she said, but claimed the previous rate of Universal Credit did not cover her rent. She has now been receiving the element for her third child since March 2020, she added.
Leigh Day solicitor Ryan Bradshaw said: “Our client was subjected to distress, suffering and considerable upset over the period of her ordeal with the DWP. She suffered financial loss and her mental health was significantly affected.
“She is diagnosed with PTSD and is the sole carer for her three children.”
He added the DWP “appear to have learned nothing” despite a string of controversial cases in the past.
In its internal investigation, seen by the Mirror, the DWP admitted there had been a “failure of our customer service standards”.
Officials apologised “if” she was made to feel uncomfortable. The statement to her added: “I apologise that you feel you have not been treated by staff in the way you would expect.”
It went on: “In hindsight, I feel it may have been appropriate to have appointed you a single point of contact… I can only apologise that this was not undertaken at the time.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “Everyone who contacts the DWP should be treated with dignity and compassion, and providing the best possible customer service and care is at the heart of what we do.
“As legal proceedings are ongoing we are unable to comment on this specific case.”