Carers should not have to pay back benefit overpayments, say MPs

2 Aug 19

The government should stop its efforts to claw back overpayments from carers after an estimated £150m was erroneously handed out, MPs have said.

Witnesses told the work and pensions committee paying back the money was causing carers “significant distress and anxiety”, a report out today said.

As unpaid carers make an “immense” contribution of £132bn to the UK economy each year, the groups of MPs urged the government to review whether it was worth asking for the money back, especially “given its culpability”.

The committee highlighted the DWP had made no assessment of the impact repaying these overpayments will have on carers.

Chair of the committee Frank Field said: “Carers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t: penalised as soon as they earn even a pound over the threshold, and punished by the department’s own administrative failures and hopelessly outdated system.

“The department sets itself no target for tackling fraud and error for individual benefits, yet jumps on struggling carers for every honest mistake. DWP has got its priorities all wrong.”

A study by the National Audit Office from April found that the Department for Work and Pensions had made 93,000 overpayments to carers in 2018-19 with a value of £150m.

Carers can claim the £66.15 benefit if they earn less than £123 and provide 35 hours of care each week.

If a carer earns even £1 over the £123 weekly limit, they must pay back in full the benefit they received, with many carers experiencing this scenario, the report noted.

There are an estimated seven million carers in the UK – one in eight adults – with the number set to rise to nine million. According to the charity Carers UK’s annual report 39% of these are in financial hardship and 73% receiving the benefit are unable to save for retirement. 

A DWP spokesperson said: “We value the vitally important role carers play in our society and since 2010 we’ve increased carer’s allowance so they now receive an extra £635 a year.

“We have made significant progress in addressing carer’s allowance overpayments and while we have a duty to the taxpayer to recover money in cases of fraud or error, safeguards are in place to ensure deductions are reasonable.” 

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