“A cross-party group of MPs has criticised the Department for Work and Pensions’ “culture of indifference” after it took six years to correct a major error which left chronically-ill and disabled benefit claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket.
An estimated 70,000 claimants were underpaid by between £5,000 and £20,000 between 2011 and 2016 because the DWP failed to ensure they received the correct amounts when moving them from incapacity benefit on to the employment and support allowance (ESA).
The cost of fixing the error, which a public accounts committee’s (PAC) report said stemmed from a string of avoidable management failures, will cost the DWP at least £340m in back payments to claimants and £14m in administrative costs.
Up to 75,000 benefit claimants were underpaid for years.
As well as losing out on thousands of pounds through underpayments, the DWP’s failure to check claimants’ entitlements meant some were also denied their rights to help with dentistry costs, as well as free school meals and free medical prescriptions.
The report criticised the DWP for rushing into the transfer without taking legal advice or making basic checks, brushing aside evidence that people were being underpaid, and ignoring warnings from its own policy advisors that it should pause and fix the process before proceeding.
Even after it became formally aware of its error in 2014, the department failed to act, initially attempting to pass the mistake off as being the fault of claimants. After years of “inertia” it began to put in place a repayment plan in 2017, and then only after receiving advice that it had a legal responsibility to act.
The report concluded the DWP’s lack of urgency in taking six years to start to address the error indicated “a culture of indifference” towards people being underpaid. …”