Carers being penalised for benefits mistakes

Friday 2nd August 2019

Carers are being ‘disproportionately heavily penalised’ over honest mistakes in claiming benefits, MPs have warned.

A report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee has highlighted concerns carers are being ‘punished’ by the UK Government’s own administrative failures and ‘hopelessly outdated systems’.

MPs have called on the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) to completely reassess its approach and consider writing off debts.

Many carers in the UK rely on Carer’s Allowance for financial support, which they can claim if their earning are no more than £123 a week and they provide at least 35 hours a week of care.

However DWP rules means if their earnings rise by even just £1 above the threshold, they will owe payments back.

The report has warned many carers have inadvertently fallen foul of this rule.

While the DWP should spot these errors, problems with its system and staff shortages has led to ‘substantial backlogs’ in the checking process – leaving some carers with debts which will take decades to repay.

One carer who had been overpaid by £3,000, told how they had accidentally worked too many hours while caring for their mum and mentally ill son.

The carer said: “I wasn’t aware that I’d done wrong until I was called for an interview at the job centre. I was charged with fraud and taken to court, I was given community service of 180 hours unpaid work as if I didn’t have enough to deal with.

“My son went into care because I couldn’t cope, and I have now had to give up work and care for mum. I had to move in with her and give up my home, my job, my life. I am now having to pay the money back.

“My own health has suffered, and my finances are rock bottom. I feel my life has been in a downward spiral and I haven’t been able to cope since.”

Frank Field MP, chair of the Committee, said: “DWP has got its priorities all wrong. Bullying carers is no way to recognise, much less support, the invaluable contribution they make to our society and the people they care for, or the hundreds of billions of pounds they save the taxpayer.

“Will the Government now please get off the back of carers? They have important work to do.”

The report noted the DWP has now put a new system in place which aims to provide more frequent alerts on potential overpayments, but warned it would have to be adequately staffed.

The DWP said it would consider the findings of the report to see if there were further changes that could be made.

A DWP spokesman 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.”