Online journalist David Hencke is to be praised for digging these facts out of the black hole of Whitehall obscurity:
The Department for Work and Pensions has recorded its worst year of benefit payment failures, with Universal Credit the worst offender.
Mr Hencke reports that the department has been censured for material inaccuracy in its accounts for the 32nd year in a row – going back to the days of the old Department for Social Security.
Annual accounts released on June 30 show that “Excluding State Pension, the estimated rate of overpayments has increased again to 4.8 per cent (£4.5 billion) of estimated benefit expenditure, from a restated rate of 4.4 per cent (£3.8 billion).
“The estimated rate of underpayments, excluding State Pension, has decreased to 2.0% (£1.9 billion), from its estimated rate of 2.2% (£1.9 billion) in 2018-19. The rate of overpayments in 2019-20 is the highest estimate to date.”
Universal Credit is the worst offender – possibly because the scope for inaccurate reporting of income, and inaccurate provision of payments, is so large. It depends on claimants’ income, which varies from month to month.
The report says: “For Universal Credit, the estimated rate of overpayments increased from 8.7% to 9.4%. This is the highest recorded overpayment rate for any benefit other than Tax Credits (administered by HMRC), which peaked at 9.7% in 2003-04.”
“Underpayments rates have fallen for Universal Credit, Employment and Support Allowance and Pension Credit, and the estimated rate for Housing Benefit has increased. Personal Independence Payment has the highest rate of underpayments at 3.8% of expenditure in 2019-20. This rate has not changed from 2018-19.”
Take note of that: people with disabilities are habitually underpaid and the DWP has done nothing to stop this. No wonder so many of them die.
Mr Hencke’s report lists other omissions that are nothing less than disgraceful:
The Department has never checked whether payments are accurate for claimants on Disability Living Allowance for 16 years – last done in 2004-05.
More extraordinary the Department has never checked whether money paid out to 12 million pensioners is accurate or not since 2005 – that is 15 years ago.
Instead the department maintains there is no serious fraud or underpayments in pensions – calculating it as just £300 million out of an annual payment of £98.6 billion.
Given this year we had a case this year of a 94 year old pensioner being owed a staggering £117,000 because of 34 years of underpayments, I find this complacency mind blowing.
I also think the National Audit Office, as their auditors, is remiss in not asking for an update.
Next year’s estimate of benefit fraud and error is likely to even more out of kilter thanks to Covid 19 as the ministry have got rid of staff monitoring fraud to be able to pay out the 2.6 million claims for universal credit.
And although the department is said to be investigating 143,000 suspicious claims under Covid 19, it can’t follow them up because it can’t visit them at home.
So the prediction is that the situation will become even worse – and much worse – next year.
And you know that the people who will suffer the most will continue to be those in the most need.
The DWP’s permanent secretary is Peter Schofield, who most recently came into the news for quietly changing conditions for receiving benefits after one man starved to death.
Perhaps we need to remind him of his accountancy failures next time he tries to cover up his department’s – call them what they are – crimes in such a way.
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