The Government has apologised to 118,000 disabled and ill people who saw their benefits mistakenly cut when they were transferred over to a new system.
Work and Pensions minister David Rutley “unreservedly” apologised directly to Ms U, a claimant whose benefit was cut after being transferred to Employment Support Allowance (ESA), which left her unable to heat her home and buy food.
At least 118,000 people with disabilities and health problems had their payments wrongly cut when they were moved on to ESA from other benefits, according to the Parliamentary and Health Service Ombudsman.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) says it has since corrected the error and paid arrears totalling £613 million to those affected.
Labour shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Ashworth told the House of Commons that the apology was welcome but “it is no good ministers putting their fingers in their ears and pretending that there is not a bigger problem here”.
Mr Ashworth quoted the report to say the issue was an “unremedied injustice” which he said is “impacting on some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
He asked if the Government will provide compensation.
Mr Rutley replied: “In these situations, we are typically not compelled to come forward with blanket compensation payments but we will consider the views of the report.”
He added: “We would also say to people that if they want to contact us, the DWP, if they believe that they should be available to have compensation, then they can contact the various helplines we have set up.”
Mr Rutley told the Commons a “formal” apology would be extended with additional payments to the 118,000 who had lost out.
“I would like to start by extending an apology to Ms U and the experiences that have been highlighted in the Ombudsman’s report,” he said. “The department will, of course, formally apologise and make additional payments now that the PHSO report has been published.”
Mr Rutland also said: “We all make mistakes. This was clearly a big one. And all I can say is we will learn the lessons. But we also did take very… active response when we found out the scale of the problem.”
SNP MP Alan Brown (Kilmarnock and Loudoun) said: “It’s outrageous it’s taken the ombudsman to determine that compensation is due to the 118,000 claimants under payed for up to seven years. Of course people should be paid compensation for being forced to live in poverty.”
Mr Rutland said the Government would pay compensation to Ms U.
The minister was responding to Labour MP Clive Efford, who said: “My constituent suffers from paranoid schizophrenia, arthritis, hypertension, and Graves’ disease, and this decision left her to survive on far less than she was entitled to between May 23, 2012, and August 12, 2017, this amounted to £80 a week.
“The DWP, having made this error, compounded the problem by refusing to allow her to complain to the independent case examiner, and failing to tell her about her rights to go to the ombudsman.”
The MP for Eltham asked if the Government would accept the ombudsman recommendation and make a payment of £7,500 to compensate his constituent, and apply the “appropriate” rate of interest for the benefit arrears payment of over £19,000.
The minister said: “We unreservedly apologise for the situation that the constituent, Ms U, found herself in. We will pay the compensation and we will pay those interests as well.”
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