Did the government really overestimate the number of people who deserved a benefit refund – or did it just say that to victimise sick people?
The Mirror is reporting that the DWP “has slashed 90,000 people and £310m from a forecast of people who’ll be paid back the benefit ESA.
“A blunder dating back to 2011 meant thousands of claimants were awarded too little ESA – worth up to £111.65 a week – when they moved over from old-style incapacity benefit.
“Since 2017, the DWP has been working through 600,000 cases to check who was short-changed – and given back payments worth an average of £6,000.
“But this week it emerged an earlier estimate that 210,000 people would get refunds worth £920m was, in fact, wildly incorrect.
“Now the DWP estimates 120,000 people – almost half the previous number – will get back payments worth a lower total of £610m.”
I reckon I know a little about this.
Back in May, Mrs Mike was contacted by the DWP with a message stating: “You may be able to get more ESA.
“You were paid contribution-based ESA from 14/08/2012 to 29/05/2015,” it stated – falsely, “which replaced the Incapacity Benefit you were getting.
“You might also be eligible for income-related ESA for the above period. If you are, you may be eligible to extra payments. These are called premiums.”
Then it gave information on how to determine eligibility. It seemed to depend on whether a claimant, their partner or both had savings of more than £16,000, or whether the claimant’s partner worked 24 hours or more per week.
I was suspicious so we contacted Citizens’ Advice to check what was going on.
We were told this was a genuine exercise that involved a huge number of claimants, and the understanding was that there was a sincere desire to correct possible underpayments.
I was still concerned, because the fact is that Mrs Mike was not paid contribution-based ESA from August 14, 2012 to May 29, 2015 – she only had it until August 13, 2013.
This was because of one of the monumental cock-ups for which the DWP is justifiably infamous.
Mrs Mike had been wrongly put in the “work-related activity group” (WRAG). She was told this by an advisor during her first work-related activity interview, and was advised to appeal.
The DWP did not acknowledge the appeal or do anything about it apart from to attach a note to Mrs Mike’s file that she was not to be contacted under any circumstances.
We waited, and waited, and then her year in the WRAG ran out. I contacted the DWP by telephone to find out what this meant for her claim and was told that it had been cancelled. This is also when I found out about the “do not contact” note. No explanation for that has ever been given.
A period of negotiation then followed, after which it was decided that Mrs Mike would have to undergo another work capability assessment (WCA) and would be put on income-related ESA until it happened.
The new WCA never took place, though – the DWP decided it could handle the case on the papers and she was put on income-related ESA from that point on.
Still, we responded to the questions – no, and no – and sent the form in.
Earlier this month, Mrs Mike went through the roof when she received a letter from the DWP: “Our decision about your ESA review.”
It said: “You are not entitled to income-related ESA from 14 August 2012 as your partner was working 24 hours or more per week.”
This is transparently untrue.
We wrote back on October 11 to point this out and demand an explanation and have received nothing so far. In fairness, it is only nine days later. In 2013, the negotiations lasted three months.
Taking all this into account, I can form only one conclusion:
It seems to me that the DWP’s review was intended to reduce the number of people being paid, to claw cash back if possible and to put as many people in financial difficulty as it could.
The fact that one in 12 people who may have been underpaid have died should be indicative of what the DWP is really about.
And to the unknown number of claimants – or relatives – who have failed to respond to the DWP’s attempts at contact, or have refused to respond, my advice is: Don’t.
The people involved in this matter do not have your welfare at heart. They want your money – nothing more.
Have YOU donated to my crowdfunding appeal, raising funds to fight false libel claims by TV celebrities who should know better? These court cases cost a lot of money so every penny will help ensure that wealth doesn’t beat justice.
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