Over 118,000 people with disabilities denied compensation after benefits error

More than 118,000 people with disabilities and health problems have been denied the right to compensation after a Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit payment error affecting people with ‘the most limiting illnesses or disabilities’.

14/01/22

Over 118,000 people with disabilities denied compensation after benefits error

A Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman investigation has found that a seriously ill woman had her benefits payments cut by around £80 a week due to a Government blunder, leaving her unable to heat her home and buy food.

62-year-old Ms U, who lives alone, should have received her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments in full when she was moved from Incapacity Benefit, however she – and thousands of others – had her benefits payments mistakenly cut.

According to a National Audit Office (NAO) report into the ESA error, it found that it likely affected people with ‘the most limiting illnesses or disabilities’. It also means that thousands of people may have missed out on related benefits and experienced extreme hardship because of it, like Ms U.

The DWP has since corrected the ESA error and set about paying arrears to those affected. But it still will not allow them to claim compensation for the life-changing impact this error may have had.

For five years, Ms U – who was recovering from heart bypass surgery and managing multiple health problems including an autoimmune disease, severe mental health problems and hypertension – received only around half the amount the Government says is the minimum requirement for a person with severe disability needs.

The case was brought to the Ombudsman’s attention by Ms U’s local welfare rights adviser who explained that she had suffered extreme financial and personal hardship because the DWP made an error when it changed the benefits she was receiving.

Ombudsman Rob Behrens is now calling on the Government to urgently rectify the injustice.

“Ms U’s case is deeply distressing and a stark reminder of why accountability and independent Ombudsman schemes matter. It is human to make mistakes but not acting to right wrongs is a matter of policy choice. In this case, that choice has been made by the very organisation that is responsible for supporting those most in need.

“That those affected are unable to claim compensation for this error is poor public policy in practice, and the situation is made worse given that they have already waited years to receive the benefits to which they are entitled.

“We don’t know how many more Ms Us there are out there. That is why I urge the DWP to allow people affected to claim for compensation in recognition of its error and the potentially devastating impact it has had on people’s lives.”

Despite its refusal to comply, DWP’s own policies state that people should be offered compensation if they suffer injustice and hardship because of administrative errors.

Cllr Mariam Lolavar, Cabinet Member for Business & Economic Growth, Royal Borough of Greenwich said the authority’s welfare rights team has been campaigning to get Ms U’s benefits reinstated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) since 2017.

“It has been a very long process and put a disabled resident through extreme and unnecessary hardship. Following the tireless work by council officers the benefits owed have been backdated however, the DWP still refused to pay compensation for its error.

“I am delighted that the Ombudsman has ruled that Ms U is entitled to compensation from the DWP. We stand in solidarity with the Ombudsman’s recommendations to Parliament calling the DWP to award compensation automatically to everyone else who has been affected by its mistake too.

“We are one of the few boroughs that continue to fund a welfare rights team but Ms U’s callous treatment by the DWP just goes to show what an invaluable support the team provides to our most vulnerable residents.”

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