Give 7m carers a break, MPs tell Whitehall benefit bullies
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soon as they earn even a pound over the threshold, and punished by the DWP’s own administrative failures and hopelessly outdated systems.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.
“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.”