70,000 disability benefit claimants left out of pocket after ‘major error’ by DWP
Thousands of people owed disability benefits have been underpaid due to failings at the Department of Work and Pensions, MPs have claimed.
A new report from the Public Accounts Committee has found that an estimated 70,000 people claiming Employment and Support Allowance lost out on an average of £5,000 following “multiple failures” at the department.
MPs on the influential committee slammed ministers for failing to create procedures that reflected the Government's legislation – leaving some claimants out of pocket by up to £20,000.
PAC Chair Meg Hillier said that thousands had been left without cash to cover essential living costs as a result of the department’s “blinkered and wholly inept handling of ESA”.
“The department simply didn’t listen to what claimants, experts, support organisations and its own staff were saying”, she said.
“It’s sluggish in correcting underpayments, years after it accepted responsibility for the error, points to weaknesses at the highest levels of management.
“Indifference has no place in the delivery of vital public services. It must be rooted out wherever it is found."
MPs added that they were “not convinced” that ministers were serious about reducing the £1.7bn that is underpaid each year, claiming that the department was “abysmal” at communicating with claimants about changes to benefit programmes.
The report found that claimants were sent “incomprehensible” letters, and that even senior staff at the DWP failed to understand the content of the letters being sent out.
“The department issues forms to claimants that did not make clear that claimants could be substantially better off if they were also entitled to ESA on income grounds”, the report concluded.
“Without this information, there is no reason why claimants would necessarily have known why it was important to contact the Department about their benefits.”
Ms Hillier also blasted ministers over their unwillingess to listen to experts who had warned about the systemic nature of the problem.
“Half-hearted Whitehall targets offer no comfort to people struggling to make ends meet because of Government mistakes", she said.
Mark Atkinson, chief executive at disability charity, Scope, said: “This is yet another report that lays bare the failings of an inadequate system that is short-changing disabled people.
"The Department for Work and Pensions must begin to build trust in the system, and reform the failing fitness for work test.”
A spokesperson for the DWP said: "We take the issue of underpayments very seriously and have actively taken steps to put this right as quickly as possible, to ensure people get the support they are entitled to. We have recruited 400 extra staff and have already strarted making payments - over £40 million so far.
"We have continued to provide regular updates to both the PAC and the House in regards to the progress of these repayments, and will continue to do so."