Government says unpaid carers will be asked to repay up to £50,000 in benefit overpayments

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A senior MP has condemned ministers’ ‘ineptitude’ after the revelation that people have wrongly received tens of thousands of pounds in error. The huge size of some of the overpayments was exposed by Frank Field, chair of the Commons work and pensions committee. Field has demanded an urgent investigation by the National Audit Office. It is believed that £700m of overpayments have been made in the last five years.

In 2018, tens of thousands of people who receive Carer’s Allowance were overpaid  by amounts ranging from £67 to £48,560, and ministers plan to make many of them repay the money.  

Those among the 6.5 million unpaid carers who earn less than £120 a week after tax and expenses are entitled to receive £64.80 a week in Carer’s Allowance.

However, many had not realised that they completely lose their right to payments if their incomes rise even slightly above the threshold, which meant that many continued to be paid money they are not entitled to. 

That mistake is entirely is down to the government’s complex, opaque rules and incompetence in ensuring that people are actually aware of those rules and importantly, that their own employees are, too.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said 69,609 people could be asked to repay money through deductions from their welfare support. 

Reports also suggest that 1,000 of them may actually be prosecuted, while up to 10,000 could be forced to pay fines of up to £5,000.

However, it’s difficult to see how a prosecution can proceed when the mistake was down to the incompetence of ministers and staff, and not the result of any intended wrong doing on the part of carers. 

The size of some of the overpayments was revealed in a letter to Field from Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the DWP. He said that the biggest overpayment in 2017-18 was £41,937, while the year before  at least one carer received £47,761 by mistake.

However, Schofield insisted that the DWP would take into account people’s personal circumstances when trying to reclaim the money, so some people would not be asked to repay anything. 

That anyone at all should face the likely hardship of having to rectify the DWP’s error is grossly unfair. Carers often find it difficult to access jobs with the right number of hours so that they are able to fit work around their caring responsibilities, often turning down extra hours or promotion because of their responsibilities and because they face losing essential support from Carer’s Allowance if they earn anything at all above the earnings limit.

Carers receiving Working Tax Credit because of low earnings are often hit the hardest. If they cut their working hours in order to stay under the Carer’s Allowance earnings limit, they would instead lose thousands of pounds in social security support. The threshold for stopping payments is very small. 

Carers whose earnings rise over the earnings threshold by just a matter of one pence are forced to choose between giving up work, reducing their hours or losing 100% of their lifeline support. While Carer’s Allowance is the lowest benefit of its kind, it can help offset the extra costs of caring and the huge loss of earnings that many carers face. It is hardly fair that just an additional penny in earnings means the loss of £64.80 carers’ support per week. 

Carers make a huge contribution to our society and many are forced to reduce their working hours or leave work altogether to care around the clock for older, disabled or seriously ill loved ones. For carers who are able to combine caring with a few hours of low paid work, the earnings limit has caused them serious problems. 

Yet in 2015, research by Carers UK and Sheffield University found that unpaid carers save the UK £132 billion a year in care costs. The study report, Valuing Carers 2015 – the rising value of carers’ support, was the third in a series of studies looking at the value of carers’ support to the UK economy.

In light of the fact that carers already struggle balancing earning with caring responsibilities and accessing support, and given their enormous contribution to our society and the economy, it seems particularly vindictive of government ministers to threaten them with prosecution and debt recovery because of a mistake their own department has made.

Frank Field said: “It is unfathomable that the DWP could allow someone to accrue close to £50,000 in overpaid Carer’s Allowance. 

“No carer should have to suffer as result of such shocking ineptitude and I believe those overpayments that are the fault of the government’s own incompetence should be written off with the greatest urgency.

“I am referring this gross failure of the DWP, to run properly this aspect of its duties, to the National Audit Office to investigate.”

Field has written to the head of the National Audit Office, Sir Amyas Morse, calling for an urgent investigation into the “truly shocking” matter.

He wrote: “It is deeply concerning that the department has allowed claimants to accrue such eye-wateringly large overpayments – nearly £50,000 at the top of the range. More than just oversight, these figures suggest that systematic failings or gross incompetence – or a combination of the two – are at play.

“It is carers who will bear the brunt of these failings, as the department seeks to claw back money from people who can ill afford to lose it.”

The Work and Pensions Committee has launched an inquiry and an online survey to gather the experience of claimants’ who have been contacted by the DWP about overpayments.

The Committee conducted an inquiry into support for carers including Carer’s Allowance, earlier this year and was deeply disappointed by the Government’s “non-response” received in July – Committee Chair rejects Government “non-response” on support for carers – which the Chair said “has barely paid lip service to an issue that is central to the lives of millions of people. I am sure it can do better for this country’s heroic and undervalued carers as well as their families. So we have taken the unusual step of inviting Government to go away and try again.”

It is now publishing the further response from DWP, as well as follow up on some of the greater remaining concerns, such as the benefit’s in-built “cliff edge”. The Committee is pursuing the possibility of introducing a “taper” such as that which operates for other benefits like Universal Credit, whereby the benefit is reduced rather than ended as earnings increase.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We work extremely hard to make claimants aware of their responsibility to provide correct information when making a benefit claim and to report any change in their circumstances. This includes informing customers of the consequences of incorrect or late reporting of information, including prosecution, financial penalty and debt implications.

“We are also introducing new technology to make it easier to identify and prevent overpayments and improve debt recovery.

“But it is right that we take the appropriate action – we have a duty to the taxpayer to recover outstanding money in all cases of fraud or error.”

Perhaps the DWP need reminding again that carers are also taxpayers, and that there is a fundamental difference between someone setting out to defraud money – which is not what happened here – and a government department behaving recklessly and being too incompetent to trust with our public funds. 

 


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21 thoughts on “Government says unpaid carers will be asked to repay up to £50,000 in benefit overpayments

      1. Can ex Ministers of State who have resigned still be investigated under the Ministerial Code for breaches of the code that occured whilst they were still In Office?

        Liked by 1 person

  1. Reblogged this on Fear and loathing in Great Britain and commented:
    Frank Field said: “It is unfathomable that the DWP could allow someone to accrue close to £50,000 in overpaid Carer’s Allowance. No carer should have to suffer as result of such shocking ineptitude and I believe those overpayments that are the fault of the government’s own incompetence should be written off with the greatest urgency.”

    Liked by 3 people

  2. This is from 2016 the update for this year is considerably worse and they’re sending out bailiffs to collect debt having caused the debt in the first place. Patently this is system wide and very much a choice proved by the fact all you get is rhetoric ‘We will learn from our mistakes’ is this not fraud in its own right?

    Over and underpayments are increasing exponentially Rise in official error
    Underpayments, meanwhile, were estimated at 2.6 percent, higher than JSA’s 0.8 percent, and the DWP said the difference was statistically significant in this case.

    The monetary value of UC’s underpayments was £13m, with the majority being due to official error, the DWP said.

    GOV.UK Logo BIG The rate of official error underpayments was 2.3 percent, significantly higher than JSA’s 0.7 percent, the DWP said, while the claimant error rate was 0.4 percent, compared with 0.1 percent on JSA.

    The National Audit Office (NAO) said last year that levels of fraud and error in benefit provision were “unacceptably high” and pointed to the need for better management of data.

    The delayed rollout of UC, which is currently undergoing trials in eight UK job centres and relies on an IT system that is still in development, was seen as hindering the DWP’s efforts to improve its record on fraud and error. UC’s rollout is currently not expected to be complete until around 2020.

    ‘Urgent action’ needed
    Following an overhaul of the programme, government watchdog the Major Projects Authority (MPA) found last year that the scheme’s lifetime cost had gone up by 20 percent, to £15.8bn. The MPA said the programme was in need of “urgent action” and warned it was in danger of failure.

    The programme has said it is evaluating whether it will use the government’s Gov.uk Verify identity assurance platform, which is also at the trial stage and is rolling out gradually.

    Gov.uk Verify, set to officially go live this week following delays, is intended ultimately to replace the Government Gateway, but no timeline has yet been suggested for phasing out the older service. https://www.gov.uk/government/collections/fraud-and-error-in-the-benefit-system#history

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Well this is what happen when Benefit amounts and entitlement rules are deliberately not out there in the public domain for all to see. Pick up any leaflets – actually cancel that statement because leaflets are rarely now available – or look online to enquire about any benefit and you will just read vague statements such as IF you…. then you MAY be entitled to etc etc. No charts or specifics ever provided to the layman. I suspect due to the fear he may read up on what is available to work out his best options. Then you are invited to make a claim and they will then tell you what you’ll receive. Very difficult to know if they’ve made an error or not.

    Like

    1. I agree with what you say above.
      If you want a comprehensive guide to how decissions are made you can fin them here.

      JSA & ESA – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/decision-makers-guide-vols-4-5-6-and-7-jobseekers-allowance-and-income-support-staff-guide

      Universal Credit – https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/advice-for-decision-making-staff-guide

      I haven’t used the UC version but the JSA version is comprehensive and surpriseingly easy to us and VERY helpful.

      Hope this helps

      Liked by 2 people

      1. The worse thing is that the DWP awarded bonuses to staff worth millions in total whilst the errors were in the billions.

        If you have paid in to the system and become unemployed you are receiving money you have paid in, it is your money, not the DWP’s, they don’t like being told that.

        Carers are saving the ‘system’ billions in real terms, a care home place is anywhere from £1000 a week upwards, a carer helping someone live at home is saving the system upwards of £40,000 a year in real terms.

        In my experience the errors of the DWP stem from lax staff who allow paperwork to go past their eyes without being properly checked, staff who are ‘boots on the ground’ not knowing what they are doing, staff giving incorrect information, no proper oversight and management of claims or ownership, no recourse to take action when DWP staff get things wrong, no apparent action is taken over staff who left in my case a tenancy agreement which was not actioned for 6 weeks after they had received it, no easy way to communicate with staff, no office addresses you can easily write to of the office dealing with claims in my experience, no direct telephone numbers to job centres just to ‘call handlers,’ etc

        If DWP staff make errors it should come out of their wages. There is no need to pay bonuses to them, that money could be used for people who need it. They don’t like being told who pays their wages either.

        UC is a catastrophic mess and must be replaced. Rolling out a badly made system only continues to repeat the problems all along the line.

        Liked by 2 people

  4. Almost two years after my claim ended I am still in dispute with the DWP over errors in payment they made which are wholly their fault.

    They have got their facts wrong and stating I owe more than is factually correct and are harassing me to up my payments.

    They have not acknowledge they have made a mistake and will not answer my communications, I am now pursuing this through the Secretary of State.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. They have already made a small compensation payment for stopped Housing Benefit which has left me £4000 out of pocket, a token victory as I have been fighting this since May 2016.

        I have a catalogue of around 30 points where they have failed over the time my claim was active. In the days 22 years ago I worked for a predecessor of this shambles, these problems would not have arisen in the first place, if I had worked to the same ‘standard’ as some of the current staff I would have been down the road out of a job.

        As I said in my original post, the carers save the government millions they might have to otherwise pay out.

        In the case of errors by DWP staff these should not be charged to the carer. Outright fraud on an organised scale should be recovered.

        Like

    1. Hi Matt.. I empathise with your continuing struggle.
      I have an app on my phone ‘Total Recall’ which automatically records all my telephone comversations. You’d be amazed at the number of times the DWP and others have suddenly decided that I was right after all when I have pointed out that I have a recording of the conversation. Strangely the DWP never seem to record any conversation that doesn’t support their version of events..

      Liked by 2 people

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