Social Justice

'DWP has learnt nothing': DWP sparks fury by seizing woman's £16k inheritance over Co-op job

Vivienne Groom was overpaid her carer's allowance over mistakenly failing to tell the DWP about her minimum wage supermarket job, which she needed to pay her bills

A miniature figurine businessman looking down on an information booklet for department for work and pensions

The DWP faces criticism. Image: Alamy

Campaigners are “appalled” after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) seized £16,000 from a woman who was overpaid her carer’s allowance.

Vivienne Groom was prosecuted for failing to declare her minimum wage Co-op job while caring for her mother, as reported by the BBC.

It is understood that she was told by her social worker that she did not have to tell the DWP about her job.

Groom initially agreed to pay the DWP £16,800 in monthly instalments of £30, but when she stood to inherit £16,000 from her mother, the government decided to seize it.

Groom had no legal representation and pleaded guilty over benefit fraud offences. She was sentenced to a community order with unpaid work requirements in November 2023 – despite the judge reportedly saying he was “truly unimpressed” by the DWP.

The government then began proceedings under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) to request that the courts confiscated her inheritance. That order was granted on Wednesday (April 3) by a different judge.

The DWP has said it is “right that we recover taxpayer’s money”.

A welfare and disability activist who goes by the name of Ben Claimant said: “My first reaction on reading about it was: ‘And just to add insult to injury she was told to do a community order with unpaid work requirements. She’d been doing that for years looking after her mum.’

“Nobody is denying she made a mistake and received bad advice but to treat her in this way is appalling. I agree with the judge’s criticism that this has been badly-handled and that she was doing the best she could for her mother.”



The Big Issue has previously reported on the impact of benefit overpayments on families. A single mother was falsely accused of owing the DWP more than £12,000.

“I’m absolutely devastated. It changed everything for me,” she said. “Getting that letter and thinking that I’d have to pay that back made me very fearful of ever claiming again.”

A report from the work and pensions committee published five years ago accused the DWP of “bullying and harassing” those who had been overpaid carer’s allowance.

Ben Claimant added: “It is clear the DWP has learnt nothing from the report put out by politicians accusing them of bullying and harassment of people who have been overpaid. The DWP say they are committed to fairness but I see no sign of that. This case certainly doesn’t demonstrate it.”

People in receipt of carer’s allowance are more likely to be cutting back on food and heating (35%) compared to all carers (25%), according to statistics from Carers UK.

Meanwhile, nearly 8% of unpaid carers in receipt of carer’s allowance are using food banks to cope with the cost of living crisis, compared to 5% of all unpaid carers.

Groom told the BBC: “I followed that lady’s rules and I looked after my mum. I mean, if people look after their parents they should be paid more money so they don’t have to go to work as well. I had to go to work. We had bills to pay.”

Ken Butler, welfare rights and policy advisor at Disability Rights UK, said: “Most people will think the DWP’s actions in this case are at best heavy-handed. It’s possible to still receive means-tested benefits if you have savings of up to £16,000, although the amount you receive is reduced.

“No account seems to have been taken of the fact that Ms Groom was misadvised by her social worker about reporting her job to the DWP, or the fact that the DWP itself would have been told by HMRC that her carer’s allowance entitlement had changed.

“Another real issue is that, despite her carer responsibilities, due to the low level of benefit she was receiving, Ms Groom needed to work on top of this because she had bills to pay.”

A DWP spokesperson told the BBC: “We are committed to fairness in the welfare system while protecting the public purse. Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers’ money when this has not occurred.”

But an employee for the DWP anonymously told The Big Issue: “Regardless of whether you think carers should notify DWP as soon as their earnings exceed the limit, the fact remains that DWP have known about this problem for many years and have done very little to address it.

“DWP managers neglected to investigate the alerts from HMRC would have enabled the carers’ mistakes to have been picked up before they accumulated large overpayments.  When this scandal emerged in 2019, with the Select Committee Inquiry and National Audit Office report into Carers Allowance overpayments, DWP Executives failed to take responsibility and instead blamed the data-matching system rather than their own negligent officials.  

“This complacency from the top of the department led to the problem not being fixed and five years later DWP are still allowing these preventable overpayments to build up. DWP are also treating courts with contempt by prosecuting the carers with the largest debt without telling judges, magistrates and defendants that the department should have stopped these overpayments much earlier.”

Emily Holzhausen OBE, director of policy and public affairs at Carers UK, said: “The whole DWP system surrounding the carer’s allowance earnings limit needs sorting out urgently, with the level of the earnings limit increased and processes reformed.  

“Last year, a staggering 26,739 carers were subject to overpayments as a result of going over the earnings limit. Despite HMRC sending information to the DWP notifying them of overpayments, the system doesn’t quickly alert the carer about overpayments so they can unwittingly build up debts.  For some, this has run into several years of overpayments resulting in thousands of pounds  which needs to be paid back.

“Our advice services are contacted regularly by carers who have gone over the earnings limit and are subject to an overpayment. The cases are heart-rending and we feel many could have been avoided if the system alerted carers earlier or DWP tackled the overpayments earlier.

“The carers are already providing at least 35 hours of care for someone who is older and disabled and has significant needs. If they go even £1 over the earnings limit, they lose 100% of their benefit which is £81.90 per week which must also be paid back.  It can be as simple as a rise in the minimum wage that pushes a carer over the limit.”

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