Frank Field welcomes 'change of heart' as DWP rule disabled claimants WILL receive missed benefits repayments

Wirral Globe - 19 Jul 2018
TENS of thousands of disabled people denied welfare benefits due to Government error are to receive additional back-payments totalling as much as £150 million.

The payout results from a decision by Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey to ditch a policy of refusing to reimburse missed payments dating back before October 2014.

The chair of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee Frank Field welcomed the DWP's "change of heart."

But he said his committee would now press the DWP to pay compensation in relation to other benefits, such as free school meals, dentists' bills and NHS prescriptions, to which claimants lost access as a result of the ESA errors.

"The numbers who may be eligible for back pay will increase from 70,000 to up to a quarter of a million," said Mr Field.

And he added: "The department failed to listen to claimants, charities and even its own staff when they sounded the alarm.

"Their warnings fell on deaf ears, and tens of thousands of people lost out as a result. The Government must now learn the lessons from this catastrophic failure as it faces the challenges of migration onto Universal Credit."

Campaigners said the move could increase the number of claimants receiving payments from 70,000 to 250,000, with some in line for an additional £10,000.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has already accepted that it wrongly underpaid disabled people switching from Incapacity Benefit to Employment and Support Allowance, and has begun the process of reimbursing an estimated £340 million relating to claims after October 2014.

But a scathing report by the House of Commons Public Accounts Committee denounced the DWP's "appalling" handling of the problem and said it should rethink the decision not to reimburse earlier underpayments dating back to 2011.

In a written statement to the Commons released hours after the committee's report, Ms McVey said her department had reassessed its responsibilities under the Social Security Act and was now ready to repay all arrears.

"Where we have already corrected cases and paid arrears from October 21 2014 we will review the case again and pay any additional arrears that are due prior to that date," Ms McVey said.

"I hope this will help members to provide reassurance to their constituents who think they may have been affected that they will receive all the money they are entitled to."

Some 400 workers have been taken on by the DWP to review cases and £40 million has already been paid out.

A DWP spokesperson 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 400 staff working on this and have already started making payments - over £40 million so far.

"The department has done further work on this issue, and as a result today has announced we will be paying people arrears back to the date of conversion to ESA."