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DWP warns carers they could face bigger penalties if they appeal against fines | caregivers

DWP warns carers they could face bigger penalties if they appeal against fines |  caregivers


Government officials have been accused of using threatening and cruel tactics against unpaid caregivers, saying they could face even greater financial penalties if they appeal against retaliatory benefits fines.

This month a Guardian investigation revealed that thousands of people caring for disabled, frail or ill relatives have been forced to pay huge sums after being prosecuted by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) for honest mistakes that officials could have made. they had noticed them years ago.

Dozens of unpaid carers have said they feel powerless to challenge the fines, which often run into many thousands of pounds, even when the government is to blame.

Now the Guardian has learned that the DWP is warning carers that their fine could increase if they appeal against a repayment order.

In a letter in June 2023, the government department said that if the unpaid carer contests the order, the entire claim from the start date will be considered, which could result in the overpayment increasing if there are more periods where your earnings exceeded allowed limits.

This carer, whose husband suffers from dementia and Parkinson's, was ordered to pay almost £4,000 for unwittingly exceeding the weekly earnings threshold of £151, counting her zero hours work on a monthly basis, as she believed the rules required and not every four weeks. base.

The former council worker said the conviction had shattered her confidence and left her feeling unable to challenge the DWP. I can't afford this bill, but I can't afford to argue with them because if I do, I've made these mistakes already, there's a good chance I'll make more mistakes, she said.

Cristina Odone, head of family policy at the centre-right Center for Social Justice, described the DWP tactic as threatening and cruel.

She said: Again and again, if you talk to ordinary people, the DWP raises their concerns and their fears because it is the state that is probably coming to restore benefits.

It is the most hostile part of the state for so many people. It just confirms their wariness of the DWP as the least sympathetic, most faceless and heartless part of government.

Unpaid carers are entitled to Carer's Payment of £81.90 a week, the smallest benefit of its kind, provided they look after someone for at least 35 hours a week. They are allowed to work but must not make more than £151 a week after tax and expenses.

People who make more than the weekly limit of 151, even 1p more, must pay the full weekly carer's allowance for the entire period in which they broke the rules, in what has been described as a brinkmanship approach the rock.

Tens of thousands of carers have unwittingly fallen foul of this rule and not been alerted by the DWP until years later, even though the government has real-time technology which means it can spot and stop these breaches much sooner.

Carers have been plunged into debt, forced to sell their homes and given criminal records for what they say were honest mistakes that should have been noticed much sooner by the DWP.

Three former work and pensions secretaries, including Iain Duncan Smith, have called on the government to halt investigations into unpaid carers and launch a review of its failings. Debbie Abrahams, a Labor MP on the Commons work and pensions committee, has called the DWP's approach simply vindictive.

Jolyon Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, a campaign group which supports unpaid carers, said the DWP's attempt to turn people away from appealing was quite worrying and quite unpleasant.

Maugham said: Parliament has created an appeals system to enable appeals against demands that people pay carers' allowance. For the DWP to take steps to discourage people from using this very important protection is in itself quite worrying.

Emily Holzhausen, policy director at Carers UK, said unpaid carers feel stuck in a place where they feel unable to challenge decisions even though they have the legal right to do so.

The DWP said: Carers across the UK are unsung heroes who make a huge difference to someone else's life and we have increased carers' allowance by almost 1,500 since 2010.

We have payment management safeguards in place, so visiting officers are available to provide support and assistance to customers when they go to their homes, especially those considered vulnerable.

Claimants have a responsibility to inform the DWP of any changes in their circumstances that may affect their award and it is only right that we recover taxpayers' money where this has not happened.




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