DWP ‘causes anxiety’ to carers after its £150m error

26 Apr 19

A charity has said carers across the UK have been left in “great distress” as government mistakes mean the Department for Work and Pensions is chasing them for a collective £150m.

A report by the National Audit Office, released today, found that the DWP has made 93,000 overpayments to carers in the UK in 2018-19 compared with an average of 41,000 overpayments it detected in the last five years.

Carer’s Allowance is paid to people who care for people on a qualifying disability benefit and in some cases overpayments reached more than £20,000 – money the department is now seeking to claw back.

Many overpayments were for just one week, but in some cases overpayments went on for more than a decade before they were discovered, according to the NAO.

The DWP is now seeking to salvage £150m from around 80,000 cases where the department claims the carer was at fault for the overpayment.

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, said: “Finding money to repay the DWP is causing carers great distress and it could affect their incomes for years to come. The department must look at the impact of their recovery of overpayments to ensure they don’t push people into further financial hardship.

“It is the DWP’s job to provide frequent and clear information about the earnings threshold, as well as a simpler way for carers to track and report their earnings.”

The NAO said that it will take carers a long time to repay the overpayments.

“At a standard rate of repayment for those on benefits, it will take an average of three and a quarter years for carers to repay their debt,” the report said.

But for those on benefits with an overpayment of £20,000 repayment could run for the next 34 years, the report estimated.

The DWP pays £66.15 a week in Carer’s Allowance to people who earn less than £123 a week and provide at least 35 hours of care a week. The number of people in receipt of this allowance has increased by 50% since 2010-11 due in part to the number of people receiving qualifying benefits, the NAO said.

Frank Field, chair of the work and pensions committee, said the report “devastatingly laid bare the incompetence at DWP, and its stark human cost”.

“Not for the first time, we see DWP squeezing those least able to afford it. It will chase down carers who provide such an immense services to our society, potentially cutting their income for decades – when it know that a large part of the responsibility lies squarely at is own door.”

 A DWP spokesperson said: “We are committed to preventing fraud and error in the benefit system and we welcome that the NAO’s report recognises the significant progress we have made addressing Carer’s Allowance overpayments. The amount overpaid represents just 0.5% of total benefit expenditure.

“We have introduced new technology to prevent overpayments and improve debt recovery. And we continue to make people fully aware of their responsibility to correctly report earnings and changes of circumstances.”

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