CPS defend 'vindictive' prosecution of carer that forced him to sell his home

British prosecutors have defended their decision to take carers to court over relatively small benefit overpayments, which left one Lancashire dad feeling "suicidal" after he was forced to sell his home to pay legal fees.

In April, 64-year-old George Henderson from Leyland in Lancashire spoke out about the "vindictive" fines he had received from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) after being paid too much Carer's Allowance. He said he had ticked the wrong box on a form, something the DWP recently conceded in a letter.

But, speaking to the BBC, the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS) has defended its decision to prosecute Mr Henderson, with the senior district crown prosecutor Emily Lloyd saying she "did not believe" that errors on the benefit form were an "honest mistake". As a result of the conviction, the Lancashire dad was forced to sell his two-bedroom home, handed a suspended prison sentence, and made to wear an ankle tag.

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Mr Henderson was made to repay £19,500 in overpayment and interest, because he failed to declare that he was working as a taxi driver while claiming Carer's Allowance for six years. He said that a DWP advise did not tell him that he had to declare his work, something the department ultimately agreed with in a report, stating: "“it was more probable than not that you were telling the truth and the false declaration was an innocent mistake”.

DAILY MIRROR PICTURE BY CHRIS NEILL - 07930-353682 - SUBJECT IS GEORGE HENDERSON FROM PRESTON WHO ACCIDENTALLY CLAIMED £156 EXTRA CARERS ALLOWANCE AND ENDED UP LOSING HIS HOUSE TO PAY DWP £20K
George Henderson was asked to pay back £19500 -Credit:CHRIS NEILL

Many other people have faced large fines and legal action after being overpaid Carer's Allowance year after year, with the DWP not investigating overpayment until claimants had racked up thousands in fines. According to the latest figures, more than 145,000 carers are being asked to pay their benefit back to the DWP, with 12,000 expected to pay back between £5001 and £20,000.

Emily Lloyd, who works for the CPS in Merseyside and Cheshire, said that the Carer's Allowance form is clear and is a simple "dishonesty test", because it asks "Have you been employed at any time since six months before the date you want to claim?"

She said: "The dishonesty test for the CPS is quite clear – would a reasonable person make this error? In both cases, the prosecutors did not believe so."

A DWP spokesperson said it was “committed to fairness in the welfare system, with safeguards in place for managing repayments, while protecting the public purse.”

“Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers’ money when this has not occurred.”