The DWP has refused to follow a recommendation by the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO) to contact over 100,000 ESA claimants who are owed compensation totalling many millions for DWP errors. However, one claimant has been awarded £7,500 in compensation and we explain below how you can begin a claim if you were affected.
The issue relates to mistakes made by the DWP which began over a decade ago.
In 2011 the DWP began transferring claimants from incapacity benefit to employment and support allowance (ESA). However, in many thousands of cases the DWP only assessed claimants for contribution based ESA and failed to check whether they should also have been awarded income-based ESA.
Eventually, after many complaints and awards to claimants who had missed out, the DWP reluctantly launched a LEAP exercise to identify claimants who had been victims of their error.
This resulted in 118,000 claimants getting backdated awards of ESA, in many cases amounting to thousands of pounds. Others also got awards outside of the LEAP scheme.
However, these claimants were not told that they might also be entitled to special payments because they had missed out on other benefits or undergone hardship as a result of the DWP’s maladministration.
Indeed, the DWP specifically told claimants that they could not complain to the Independent Case Examiner and did not tell them about the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman (PHSO).
However, one claimant – known as Ms U – had advice from a welfare rights worker. As a result, she did complain the PHSO after the DWP refused to pay her compensation in addition to £19, 832 in backdated ESA.
The PHSO found that Ms U had suffered considerable hardship and her health had suffered as a result of the DWP’s failures. She had also missed out on free prescriptions, warm home discount payments and other help such as paying for a washing machine.
The PHSO recommended that the DWP pay Ms U £7,500 as compensation and also pay interest on the back payment of ESA.
The DWP paid Ms U, but refused to follow another recommendation of the PHSO.
This was that they contact claimants both within the LEAP exercise and outside it who had been given ESA arrears due to their maladministration, look into their circumstances and award them any appropriate compensation.
Instead the DWP argued that: “should a claimant feel that they should receive compensation due to their individual circumstances, they can contact the Department and set out their reasons. All requests received will be considered on a case by case basis.”
The DWP know very well that almost none of the affected claimants will ever discover that they might be entitled to compensation and thus they will never know to ask for it.
In a recently released letter dated 10 May 2022, the PHSO said that they were “extremely disappointed” with the DWP’s decision not to follow their recommendations.
Unfortunately the PHSO has no power to force the DWP to do so.
We know that only a small proportion of Benefits and Work readers will have been affected by this issue.
But if you are one of them, we have a downloadable letter, complete with instructions, that you can use to begin the process of applying for compensation.
It comes with no guarantees that it will work, but waiting for the DWP to act seems to guarantee that you will not get a penny of what you may be owed.
If you are not personally affected but know someone who may be, please send them a link to this article.
And if you regularly post in a forum or belong to a group that might include affected people, again please give them a link to this page.
Who is affected
Affected claimants are those who were transferred from incapacity benefit to ESA, a process that began as far back as 2011, and who later received a lump sum payment of arrears because the DWP had failed to award you income-based ESA as well as contribution-based ESA.
Many claimants who received such a lump sum will have missed out on passporting to other benefits, such as free prescriptions and warm home discount payments.
What you can do
If you think you were affected you can write to the office which administers, or used to administer, your claim for ESA to ask for compensation.
We have created a simple, downloadable letter which you can use as the basis for your own.
We have kept this letter as simple as possible, with instructions for you in italics. If you know the dates of any award of back-dated ESA or the amounts that you may have missed out on then by all means add them. But, at this point, the most important thing is to begin your claim.
If you don’t receive a reply, do as the letter says and make a formal complaint as well as contacting your MP’s office and asking them to pursue the matter
You can read the PHSO’s original findings on the case of Ms U here
You can read the correspondence between the PHSO and the DWP here
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