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Sickness and disability benefit errors to cost £500m to correct underpayments

Errors in working out benefit payments mean 75,000 claimants are owed money that will cost £500m to repay. That’s an average of more than £6,000 per person.

The UK’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) actually found the mistakes itself. And they involve the country’s main sickness and disability benefit, the Employment and Support Allowance (ESA). People with MS claim the benefit – part of 2.5m sick and disabled who receive it.

benefit errorsAccording to the BBC, which was the first news organisation to run the story, the problem stems from assessors wrongly calculating the claimants’ incomes.

Now, I can understand occasional benefit errors being made, from time to time, but not anything on this scale. This is just not good enough.

According to BBC News, the mistakes could cost the government up to £500m to put right.

Too long to fix benefit errors

Government ministers know of the problem and claim the DWP is starting to pay the missing cash. But that is little comfort for those who have been deprived of the money to which they were legally entitled.

Apparently, the DWP discovered the mistakes last December, and has so far contacted about 1,000 of those who were underpaid. That is also not good enough.

It is now 11 months since the mistakes, that affect some 75,000 people, were detected – yet only 1,000 have been contacted. How can that be? And just how long will the department take to contact all of them and make the necessary payments?

The DWP says it is still trying to understand the scale of the problems with ESA. Well, the DWP has clearly mismanaged it, or not managed it at all.

Benefit errors of ‘historic proportions’

BBC News reports:

Frank Field, chairman of the Commons work and pensions select committee, said the problem was on a scale of “historic proportions”.

He said: “I’m still gobsmacked at the size and the nature and the extent and the coverage of people that have been wrongly impoverished by the department getting it wrong.”

The BBC understands that the errors affected people who applied for ESA between 2011/12 and 2014/15 – claimants after that date are understood to have had their benefit correctly assessed.

On top of money to be paid back, the Treasury will have to pay for the staffing and processing of repayments.

Is it really too much to expect that a country’s primary sickness and disability benefit be managed professionally and honestly? Of course, it isn’t.

Is it too much to expect that the DWP should capable of doing just that? Sadly, the evidence seems to prove that it is!

Overall, there are too many questions and not enough answers. The DWP should be ashamed of itself and its assessors. Heads should roll.

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50shadesofsun.com is the personal website of Ian Franks, a freelance medical writer and editor for various health information sites. He enjoyed a successful career as a journalist, from reporter to editor in the print media. He gained a Journalist of the Year award in his native UK. Ian received a diagnosis of MS in 2002 and now lives in the south of Spain. He uses a wheelchair and advocates on mobility and accessibility issues.

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