Give 7m car­ers a break, MPs tell White­hall ben­e­fit bul­lies

Daily Express - - NEWS - By Sarah O’Grady So­cial Af­fairs Cor­re­spon­dent

PEO­PLE who self­lessly care for loved ones at home are be­ing bul­lied by ben­e­fit of­fi­cials, MPs say.

Car­ers are be­ing pur­sued for thou­sands of pounds of over­pay­ment of carer’s al­lowance built up through no fault of their own.

And their £66.15 weekly ben­e­fit is cut to zero if they earn just £1 over the £123 earn­ings thresh­hold.

Home car­ers are be­ing pe­nalised for er­rors at the De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions, said the work and pen­sions com­mit­tee.

Its chair­man Frank Field said: “Car­ers are damned if they do, damned if they don’t: pe­nalised as soon as they earn even a pound over the thresh­old, and pun­ished by the DWP’s own ad­min­is­tra­tive fail­ures and hope­lessly out­dated sys­tems.

“The de­part­ment sets it­self no tar­gets for tack­ling fraud and er­ror for in­di­vid­ual ben­e­fits, yet jumps on strug­gling car­ers for ev­ery hon­est mis­take.

Bur­den

“Bul­ly­ing car­ers is no way to recog­nise the in­valu­able con­tri­bu­tion they make to our so­ci­ety and the peo­ple they care for, or the hun­dreds of bil­lions of pounds they save the tax­payer.

“Will the Gov­ern­ment now please get off the back of car­ers? They have im­por­tant work to do.”

The bur­den of re­port­ing even mi­nor changes in cir­cum­stances is wholly on car­ers and the DWP pro­vides in­for­ma­tion in a long and com­plex an­nual let­ter.

But it fails to ex­plain the ba­sic fact that if they earn even £1 over the £123 a week thresh­old, they will lose their en­tire week’s al­lowance or owe it back to the de­part­ment as a debt.

Crit­ics said it is the harsh­est with­drawal rate in the ben­e­fits sys­tem and have been call­ing for an end to the sharp “cliff edge” of the earn­ings thresh­old. They also point out that track­ing earn­ings can be very com­pli­cated, par­tic­u­larly for those with ir­reg­u­lar hours.

It is es­ti­mated that there are around seven mil­lion car­ers in the UK, around one in eight adults, who make an un­paid con­tri­bu­tion of £132bil­lion to the UK econ­omy ev­ery year.

Their num­bers are set to swell to nine mil­lion with most Bri­tons be­com­ing a carer at some point in their lives, for a part­ner, par­ent, friend or dis­abled child.

Many find it dif­fi­cult to make ends meet, with 39 per cent in fi­nan­cial hard­ship, and 73 per cent claim­ing carer’s al­lowance un­able to save for re­tire­ment.

Emily Holzhausen, di­rec­tor of pol­icy at Car­ers UK, said: “Car­ers who have been im­pacted by over­pay­ments are ex­pe­ri­enc­ing con­sid­er­able stress and anx­i­ety.

“The DWP must ur­gently con­sider writ­ing off over­pay­ments

where its ad­min­is­tra­tive fail­ures have al­lowed them to ac­crue.”

The De­part­ment for Work and Pen­sions said: “Since 2010 we’ve in­creased carer’s al­lowance so they re­ceive an ex­tra £635 a year.

“We have made sig­nif­i­cant progress in ad­dress­ing over­pay­ments and, while we have a duty to the tax­payer to re­cover money in cases of fraud or er­ror, safe­guards are in place to en­sure de­duc­tions are rea­son­able.”

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