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MPs call for review of carers' allowances as overpaid figures rise | benefit

MPs call for review of carers' allowances as overpaid figures rise |  benefit

 


MPs have called for a full-scale review of carers' allowances and an end to tough benefit rules that have resulted in tens of thousands of unpaid carers being fined huge sums and in some cases prosecuted for minor violations of income limits.

The calls came as new official figures showed the number of unpaid carers hit with fines after unwittingly breaching income rules rose to more than 34,000 last year, with more than 1,000 individuals hit with sums ranging from £5,000 to 20,000.

Campaigners said this meant one in five Carers' Allowance claimants working part-time on top of their caring duties were overpaid in 2023-24, leaving many with huge debts to pay off over the years.

The figures, released last Friday afternoon by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP), suggest ministers have failed to get a grip on overpayments, despite promising five years ago to tackle the issue.

MPs repeatedly raised the issue of overpayments in a debate in Westminster Hall on Monday night, reflecting growing concerns from parliament on daytime TV over the injustices being meted out to unpaid carers.

The Guardian has in recent weeks uncovered and documented the desperation and misery experienced by unpaid carers forced to pay huge fines and sometimes prosecuted for fraud after minor breaches of Carers' Allowance income rules amounting to some pound.

Although the DWP has data-matching technology in place that alerts it to overpayments when they occur, its failure to investigate the thousands of potential revenue breach notifications each month means many go undetected, often accumulating to sums of thousands of pounds, which when finally identified. guardians must pay.

Although most breaches involve trivial amounts, the extreme nature of Carers Allowance fines and strict enforcement policies mean that carers must pay their entire weekly allowance of £81.90 if they breach the £151 a week earnings limit even with a penny.

Liberal Democrat leader Ed Davey told MPs the unfairness of carer overpayments had become the issue of the day. He criticized the government for failing to fix the system despite being warned of the problems years ago. We need a full-scale review of carers allowances and we need it urgently, he said.

Vicky Foxcroft, shadow disability minister, said: The Government must urgently investigate the issue of overpayments and outline what steps it is taking to ensure this does not happen in the future.

Emily Holzhausen, director of policy for Carers UK, said: New figures show that the number of income-related overpayments for carers has remained unacceptably high for the past three years. The scale is simply surprising, it is a clear sign of a malfunctioning system.

MPs will question Disability Minister Mims Davies over the government's failure to tackle carers' allowance overpayments when the Commons select committee on work and pensions. meets on Wednesday mornings.

Carer's Allowance is the main carer's benefit in the UK. To qualify, caregivers must provide at least 35 hours of unpaid care per week. Around 1 million unpaid carers receive the benefit, of which around 175,000 also work part-time on top of their caring duties.

New figures show 34,500 unpaid carers made overpayments last year, up from 30,700 in 2022-23. The figures will increase pressure on ministers to act on shortcomings they have known for decades and which they told MPs in 2019 they were determined to address.

The number of carers overpaid has fallen below 30,000 a year just once since 2019 when MPs first criticized the DWP's handling of the issue. In 2020-21, overpayments fell to 20,000 when carers support unit staff were sent elsewhere to cope with a surge in Universal Credit claims.

Carers Trusts policy director Dominic Carter said: The DWP's actions will push many [carers] on a financial cliff edge. The Government must finally listen to carers' concerns and urgently overhaul carers' compensation. The current system is simply not fit for purpose.

A DWP spokesman 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.

Our latest statistics show that earnings-related carer support overpayments represent 2.1% of the £3.3 billion we spend supporting those who care for loved ones.

Claimants have a responsibility to inform the DWP of any changes in their circumstances that may affect their pay, and with safeguards in place to manage payments, this ensures fairness in our welfare system.

Sources

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2/ https://www.theguardian.com/society/2024/apr/22/mps-call-for-carers-allowance-review-as-numbers-overpaid-soars

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