Around 118,000 people with disabilities and health conditions have had their benefits wrongfully reduced when they switched to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – and now the DWP is being asked to compensate them
The Department for Work and Pensions has been arrested by the ombudsman for failing to compensate benefit claimants whose payments were mistakenly cut off.
Around 118,000 people with disabilities and health conditions had their benefits wrongfully reduced when they switched to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) around a decade ago.
It was all related to an internal DWP error that led to underpayment of providers.
While the DWP has since corrected the error and paid arrears totaling £613million to those affected, the Parliament and Health Services Ombudsman (PHSO) said people should also have been compensated.
Those affected “face an injustice” and should be able to seek compensation in recognition of the error and its “potentially devastating impact” on their lives, the ombudsman said.
It follows an investigation by the Ombudsman into the case of a complainant, known as Ms U.
The 62-year-old lost a life support due to the mistake and was thrown into “extreme financial and personal hardship”.
Her payments were wrongfully reduced by around £80 a week for five years when she transferred to ESA in 2012, leaving her unable to heat her home and feed herself.
She only received payments based on her National Insurance contributions, but should also have received payments based on her earnings.
The lower payments also meant she had lost access to financial support such as free prescriptions and the £700 Warm Home Discount over the years.
She was awarded £19,832.55 in arrears by the DWP after the error was identified.
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But the ombudsman ordered the DWP to also apologize and pay £7,500 in compensation due to ‘maladministration’.
Now the ombudsman says the government should consider payments for everyone affected because of the “potentially devastating impact” the mistake has had on people’s lives.
Ombudsman adjudicator Rob Behrens said: “It’s human to make mistakes, but not righting wrongs is a matter of political choice.
“In this case, that choice was made by the very organization that is tasked with supporting those who need it most.
“We don’t know how many Ms Us still have. That’s why I urge the DWP to allow those affected to seek compensation in recognition of her mistake and the potentially devastating impact she had on people’s life.”
A DWP spokesperson said: ‘Our priority is that all people receive the financial support to which they are entitled and we have identified those affected by this issue, paying 118,000 overdue benefits in full.
I was underpaid, can I be compensated?
The government has not agreed to pay compensation to all those who have been wrongfully underpaid, however, anyone seriously affected has the right to complain to the DWP.
The more evidence you have of your hardship, the stronger your case will be – so if you ran out of life support or were forced into debt, you could get money back to cover those payments.
If you are unhappy with the outcome of the DWP, you can ask your local MP to escalate your case to the PHSO.
This is an independent body that deals with complaints not resolved by the NHS or the government.
The PHSO says anyone affected should contact their local council’s social rights department or Citizens Advice.
Louise Rubin, policy manager at disability equality charity Scope, said: “This catastrophic mistake will have left many people with disabilities and their families struggling to make ends meet.
“People with disabilities shouldn’t have to fight for help. It’s right that the government now ensures that anyone who missed out can claim compensation.”
Applicants can contact the DWP on 0800 169 0346 for further information.
The average late underpaid ESA payment is £5,000.
But some on a severe disability premium could be owed £11,500 each and a ‘small number’ could get around £20,000.