DR UK works with BBC Newsnight to challenge carers benefit debt

Thu,16 May 2024
News Benefits Health & Social Care
On Monday 13 May the BBC broadcast a special edition of their flagship current affairs programme “Newsnight”, which focused on the appalling situation of carers, who owed thousands of pounds to DWP due to unjust and complicated benefit rules.

Dan White policy and campaigns officer at DR UK and a carer himself joined with Stephen Timms from the Work and Pensions Committee and Iain Mansfield, director, of research at Policy Exchange, to discuss  the deeply flawed benefits system, that results in  Government clawing  back thousands of pounds in overpayments to carers, who can ill afford the debt payments.

Several carers described their shock at being asked to repay vast amounts of money, while continuing to care for their loved ones.

Over the last few weeks tens of thousands of carers in receipt of carers allowance have had demands to pay back as much as £20,000 in overpayments after unknowingly breaching Government rules.

Carer's Allowance is paid to those providing at least 35 hours of unpaid care a week to Disabled or long-term sick family members. The current rate is £81.90 per week, however if your earnings are one penny over £151 per week, you lose the total allowance.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), which pays the benefit, has been accused of aggressive tactics in its pursuit of people, with many carers falling further into debt, suffering ill health, losing their savings and inheritances, and in one case their home, as increasing demands for overpayments are made.

Recent investigations have found that DWP's systems may delay by several years, flagging when earnings exceed the rules, meaning people have been overpaid carers allowance for long periods, unknowingly incurring massive debt, which is then demanded back. New figures show that of 67,000 alerts flagging up potential carer’s allowance earnings rules infringements last year, nearly half were not acted upon by DWP staff.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of “burying its head in the sand” after it emerged ministers put in place only enough staff to check half of the alerts it receives when carers’ benefits are deemed “overpayments”.

In response, DWP said, “The DWP recognises the importance of the welfare of those who have incurred debt and remains committed to supporting customers to manage repayments to ensure fairness for both claimants and taxpayers.”

Sir Stephen Timms MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, said: “The Government has known for years about flaws that have plagued the payments system for Carer’s Allowance but has just allowed many unpaid carers to unwittingly rack up unmanageable levels of debt. The DWP must now move without delay to get a grip of the problem and ensure carers are no longer subjected to the distress that such overpayments can cause.”

Dan White, DR UK policy and campaigns officer and a carer himself said: “DR UK has been monitoring this story for a few weeks now and have been working with BBC Newsnight for several weeks on a special edition of the programme to bring this to public attention. The collaborative programme was broadcast on Monday 13 May and highlighted the deep injustice being experienced by family carers. We would urge the Government to write off existing debt and to ensure a complete structural overhaul of the current carer allowance system.”

“In a cost-of-living crisis, when we have the lowest benefits in Europe, it is morally unacceptable for Government to be chasing down people on meagre incomes, struggling to support sick and Disabled family members. DR UK understands that carers are an integral part of our community, it is a symbiotic relationship. While not all Disabled people rely on care, those who do are outraged that this is yet another assault on family members, friends, and allies.”

To watch the Newsnight carers edition please go to the BBC iplayer website.