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'An absolute disgrace': Benefit claimants share stories of being plunged into debt by DWP

Following our reporting, benefit claimants share their experiences of facing debt following mistakes made by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP)

DWP

The Department for Work and Pensions is facing calls for urgent change. Image: Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images

This week we published a story revealing how Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) mistakes are plunging benefits claimants into hundreds of millions of pounds of debt.

We spoke to single mothers who had been accused of owing thousands of pounds, leaving them “devastated” and with “nothing left to live on”.

It seems they are far from alone in facing the impact of benefit overpayments. Following the publication of this story, readers have written to The Big Issue to share their experiences and “absolute disgrace”. Here are your stories.

Your stories of DWP mistakes, benefit overpayments and debt

I was given incorrect information from DWP and local Jobcentres which ended up with me paying back money. I’ve tried to find out more but due to time scale I’m not able to have it looked at, even though I sent them back up paperwork. And I still don’t know how much I owe or when it will be paid off.

Gillian

This in 10 years time will be the governments new Horizon scandal! Strange that it’s all parents or single parents that this is happening to. Very scary for any single parents like myself which this has the potential to happen. Single parents are the most vulnerable of society but they have the greatest of responsibilities for the next generation.

Matthew

My husband and I now are pensioners. Since our universal credit stopped, the day I reached 66 I had a letter from DWP to say i had overpayment of over £100 and would have to pay it back. I knew I had money I was not entitled to as, once you become a pensioner, universal credit stops. I haven now had an overpayment of £157 from universal credit. They are aware of my recent change in circumstances but still are sending out money.

I have to ring up the appropriate department to take back the overpayment. I phoned today just to do that and payed the £157 straight back on the phone but at the time was told I have had another overpayment of £400-plus. I don’t know where this has come from and now waiting for answers. I also explained how this upset [it was making me]. It is having an impact on my health, ie my heart failure. I feel let down by the service and at 66 thought life would be getting easier now but it seems all i have at the moment is worry over the overpayments I supposedly incurred.

P Williams

It’s not just DWP making claimants pay for their mistakes, the council tax and housing are also making mistakes and making claimants pay for it, even though they’ve had all information required. It’s about time these people are made to pay for their mistakes – after all they are supposed to be trained for this, it’s not the claimants’ job.

Denise



My husband and I had awful problems with the HMRC due to mistakes made when he started getting his pension, then later when I was off work sick. He was advised to claim carer’s allowance for me. Even though he could not get any monies it made him eligible for other things. Despite us telling them every time off a change. There constant insistent we were getting the correct money.

It was swiftly followed by demanding and threatening letters. It made both of us extremely ill. We went to a debt advice service and they did everything they could. Got the figure down. We are still having to pay them back at £20.00 a month. It’s no wonder people don’t want to claim.

Yvonne

I was having crisis loans budgeting loans and overpayments taken from my income support jobseeker’s allowance from my 1990 to February 2014. For 24 years, the DWP was deducting money from my state benefits. They left me destitute for all them years.. I know it doesn’t take 24 years to pay a £1,000 back.

I have been writing to the DWP since November 2020 asking them to look into this matter. They have since told me they do not now hold records going that far back. I have contacted the recovery department at the DWP and still haven’t received any response back. I know I’m owed quite a substantial amount money but trying to get it is totally hard.

They will not look into this matter and keep telling me no records from 1990 are available to confirm if I am owed. It’s ridiculous they are so so very keen to take money from you if they think you owe it but trying to get money back they owe you is a nightmare. It’s an absolute disgrace that they are taking money that isn’t actually owed.

Zoe

DWP response

A DWP spokesperson said: “This is a mischaracterisation. A human will always be involved in the decision making process. The rate of universal credit overpayments due to official error is currently at 0.6% – its lowest ever.”

Do you have a story to tell or opinions to share about this? We want to hear from you. Get in touch and tell us more.

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