The Department for Work and Pensions has lied to at least one claimant about their rights, and kept legal guidance secret, in order to recover an overpayment of more than £8,000 that was due to officials’ own mistakes, according to the website Benefits and Work.
After repeatedly miscalculating the benefit entitlement of a mother of two disabled children, the DWP would have been able to waive recovery of the overpayment – especially as the claimant had two disabled children with autism and ADHD, her role as their carer meant that she could not work longer hours and she was already struggling so badly that she was having to use a foodbank.
But it didn’t.
According to Benefits and Work,
a tribunal agreed that there had been an overpayment, although they also found that the overpayment was solely due to official error and that DWP “repeatedly” miscalculated her entitlement over a prolonged period, in what was a “profound lapse in service”’.
With the help of an advice centre, the claimant asked the DWP in writing to waive recovery of the overpayment, which the DWP has the power to do.
the DWP said that as she had already been to a tribunal there was no further route to pursue the matter.
The claimant wrote yet again, saying:
“What do you mean there is ‘nothing you can do for me?’ Your own guidance says I can ask for a waiver of my overpayment (see paras 5.83-5.85 of your own benefit overpayment recovery guide) and this route was recommended to me by Mrs S Wiggins, the complaints handler who dealt with my UC complaint. All of this was carefully outlined in my waiver letter and the supporting documents I sent with it. As I have asked you to waive my overpayment, as a public body, you have an obligation to consider, and make a decision on it. Neither me nor my caseworker have received such a decision, why is that?”
Astonishingly, the DWP relied with an outright lie:
“Neither myself or anyone working for Universal Credit can reconsider your overpayment as you have exhausted all appeal routes with us. The legislation you have quoted does not apply directly to the processes that we have here.”
The claimant, with the help of the Public Law Project, launched a judicial review of this decision in the High Court.
One of the findings the judge made was that: “Fortunately, the claimant had the assistance of Public Law Project (‘PLP’), and so she did not accept this manifestly unlawful statement of the position.”
In lay person’s speak, ‘manifestly unlawful statement of the position’ could reasonably be translated as ‘barefaced lie’.
One of the grounds on which the claimant appealed was that the DWP had kept secret its detailed policy on when an overpayment should be waived.
The judge held that the failure of the DWP to publish the Decision Makers Guide to Waiver was unlawful because a claimant would not be able to fully understand the DWP’s policy on waiving overpayments.
The judge found that the DWP’s refusal to waive the overpayment was unlawful and breached the claimant’s legitimate expectations and so the DWP could no longer recover the £8,000 it had wrongly paid.
Here’s the rub: the judge also looked at statistics on overpayments and recovery by the DWP.
She found that from April 1 to March 31, 2021 an astonishing 337,000 Universal Credit claimants were asked to repay overpayments whose cause was error by the DWP. The total value of those overpayments was £228 million.
Amazingly, the DWP claimed that just 47 claimants asked for their overpayments to be waived in the whole of 2020 and just seven of those requests were granted.
Benefits and Work concluded: “In fact, many thousands may have requested a waiver and been ignored, whilst many thousands more may have had no idea that they even had the right to ask. Undoubtedly, the test for waiving an overpayment is a hard one to pass, but the DWP have a legal duty to allow claimants to have their request properly considered.
“Instead, the department continues to push struggling claimants even deeper into poverty, with only a very rare court case like this one shining a light on their dishonest and unlawful tactics.”
If you’ve fallen foul of DWP recovery procedures, you may have been treated unfairly. Perhaps it’s time to consider what to do about it?
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