DWP is asking 138,000 claimants who 'didn't know' to pay back £251 million

A claimant with a benefits letter from the DWP
A claimant with a benefits letter from the DWP -Credit:Stoke Sentinel

New figures from Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) bosses have revealed the current scale of overpayments to certain benefit claimants, who are often chased for thousands of pounds years after their incorrect claim. Responding to a written question, DWP minister Paul Maynard said 138,000 people were currently being asked to pay back £251 million in incorrect benefits.

This quarter of a billion pounds worth of overpayments was due to the Carer's Allowance earnings threshold, which requires claimants to tell the DWP whenever their pay exceeds £151 per week alongside their minimum of 35 hours of caring responsibilities. The average DWP payment error amounts to £1900, but this figure includes everything from a single error, costing a carer the weekly £81.90 benefit, to years' worth of errors that have ended up costing people their homes.

Pensions Minister Maynard revealed the huge number of benefit claimants being chased to pay back erroneous Carer's Allowance payments, which amounts to four per cent of claims, in the same week that the department finally released a 2021 report that explored why overpayments took place. Campaigners Benefits and Work have said: "Although the DWP is alerted by HMRC when a carer goes over the earnings limit, they ignore more than half of these alerts, leaving carers to run up massive, and entirely avoidable overpayments."

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The finally published three-year-old report, 'Experience of claiming and receiving Carer’s Allowance', contains a series of case studies of people who were overpaid, with carers saying that they were not informed at the time of the overpayments, with some not having the problem explained to them and seeing their benefit payments cut or stopped entirely.

One carer said in the report: “[Our UC] was reduced by £90, and he had to send a message to his journal asking because nobody could explain it over the phone. Then he received a message back saying it was overpayment on the carer's side, so that was quite annoying that we just found out when we were due money.”

Another claimant was angered when he was treated like a fraudster and was not listened to. He said: “I fought hammer and nail on it. I felt it was a real victimisation. They don't think... It's like you're dealing with a computer not a person. I ended up with a big overpayment, but it totally wasn't my fault. It's like they don't believe you.”

But a recurring theme, from why people did not know they qualified, to others not understanding when they have broken the rules, was a lack of clear information for carers. One said in the report: "Because apparently you can have two holidays a year, but I didn’t know. I don’t think they give you all the information you need. You’re a bit blind. I went away for fourdays, I had no idea I had to notify them about that.”

On Thursday, Sir Stephen Timms, chair of the parliamentary committee that scrutinises the DWP, said the government "has known for years" about these issues, but had "just allowed many unpaid carers to unwittingly rack up unmanageable levels of debt". He added: "The DWP must now move without delay to get a grip of the problem and ensure carers are no longer subjected to the distress that such overpayments can cause."

The DWP have stated: "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."