Parliamentary health watchdog demands ministers ‘urgently rectify the injustice’
De Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman has said ministers must “urgently rectify the injustice” after it emerged that 118,000 disability benefit claimants who were underpaid thousands of pounds over seven years will not be compensated.
An investigation by the National Audit Office (NEI) i 2018 revealed that “shoddy administration” in the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) had meant people did not receive fordeler they were legally entitled to. Ministers have since corrected the error and set about paying arrears to those affected.
But Ombudsman Rob Behrens is demanding that the department allow people affected to claim for compensation “in recognition of its error” and the “potentially devastating impact it has had on people’s lives”.
In one case, a seriously ill woman had her benefits payments cut by around £80 a week for five years due to the error, leaving her unable to heat her home and buy food, the watchdog said.
Ms U, 62, who lives alone and suffers from multiple health problems, should have received her Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) payments in full when she was moved from Incapacity Benefit.
She was subsequently unable to afford to heat her home or buy the food she needed to stay healthy. Her mental and physical health declined drastically, her hair fell out, she lost weight and her mental health deteriorated, according to the watchdog.
Mr Behrens said the fact that those affected were unable to claim compensation for this error was “poor public policy in practice”, legge til: “Ms U’s case is deeply distressing and a stark reminder of why accountability and independent Ombudsman schemes matter.
“It is human to make mistakes but not acting to right wrongs is a matter of policy choice. I dette tilfellet, that choice has been made by the very organisation that is responsible for supporting those most in need.
“We don’t know how many more Ms Us there are out there. That is why I urge the DWP to allow people affected to claim for compensation in recognition of its error and the potentially devastating impact it has had on people’s lives.”
Louise Rubin, head of policy at disability equality charity Scope, sa: “This catastrophic error will have left many disabled people and their families struggling to make ends meet […] It’s only right that the government now ensures all those who missed out can claim compensation.”
Alex Kennedy, head of campaigns and public affairs at Rethink Mental Illness, accused the government of “continu[ing] to dodge accountability for the harm caused by its mistakes”, legge til: “Those affected deserve compensation and the DWP must be held to account to learn lessons and prevent more people being harmed.”
Det sa en talsperson for DWP: “Our priority is that all people get the financial support to which they are entitled and we have identified those affected by this issue, making 118,000 benefit arrears payments in full.”
They added that they had repaid Ms U her benefit arears in full and would be issuing an apology and making an additional special payment.