Employment and Support Allowance is supposed to help those in need. Yet a major error by the Department for Work and Pensions has resulted in an estimated 70,000 people being underpaid for years. Those affected have lost out on an average of £5,000 each. It is appalling that over 20,000 of those most in need are owed around £11,500 and some as much as £20,000. This unacceptable and entirely avoidable situation stems from multiple failures on the part of the Department. It failed to design a process that reflected its own legislation. It failed to subject that process to proper scrutiny. It failed to listen to its own staff, claimants, or external stakeholders and experts who told it things were going wrong and that it needed to slow down. And it failed to act even when it was painfully obvious that it was underpaying a significant number of people, taking over six years to take the necessary corrective action.
The Department is now finally paying arrears but it is only paying claimants some of the benefit they have missed out on. It is not planning to pay any compensation to reflect the lost value of passported benefits such as NHS prescriptions, dentistry treatment and free school meals.
There is clearly much more to be done to right this wrong. We encourage the Department to act swiftly, decisively and comprehensively to address the harm caused by this mistake and, more broadly, to give much greater priority to correcting benefit underpayments to vulnerable people.
Published: 18 July 2018