The UK Government has admitted that many more sick and disabled people were underpaid benefits than previously thought, following a shameful blunder by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that resulted in vulnerable people missing out on thousands of pounds in vital benefit payments.
New estimates published by the DWP on Thursday suggest that as many as 210,000 sick and disabled people were underpaid Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) when transferred from Incapacitity Benefit.
This mean that an extra 30,000 people were underpaid ESA compared to the DWP’s previous estimate of 180,000, with each person affected owed an average of £4,000 in backpayments.
According to Government figures, around 58,000 of the worse affected have been repaid the arrears owed to them, averaging £6,000 each, but the data also shows that around 20,000 claimants have died since the embarrassing error.
Labour’s Shadow Disabilities Minister Marsha de Cordova said the figures showed that: “Once again disabled people are suffering as a result of the chaos at the heart of the DWP.
“This mess is yet another example of the hostile environment created for disabled people by this Conservative government”, she added.
“It is scandalous that tens of thousands of disabled people have died before receiving the social security that they were owed.”
The total cost of paying back ESA claimants the money they were rightly entitled to is set to cost the DWP somewhere in the region of £920 million.
But the true cost of undoing the mistake is likely to be much higher, because of having to bring in extra staff needed to address the problem and other related costs.
James Taylor, from the disability charity Scope, said disabled people had been “short-changed by bureaucratic errors in the welfare system”.
“On top of that efforts to clean up the mess have been beset by delays and failings,” he said.
“ESA is a financial lifeline for many disabled people to live independently and be part of their community.
“The DWP need to make sure that those who have missed out on their full ESA entitlement are payed back promptly with the minimum amount of stress and anxiety.”
Geoff Fimister, co-chair of the Disability Benefits Consortium – a coalition of more than 80 charities and organisations – said the DWP should also be made to pay compensation to the victims.
“It is only right that the DWP should be undertaking a thorough trawl to identify these historic underpayments and reimburse those affected,” he added.
“If they need to revise their estimates, so be it. The real pity is that the mistake happened in the first place.”
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are making good progress reviewing and correcting cases and repaying claimants affected by past ESA underpayments, with over £300 million of arrears paid so far.
“All claimants in the first phase have now been contacted and we have 1,200 specialist staff working to ensure no one loses out.
“Where a claimant has sadly died we are ensuring that any arrears owed to them are paid to their next of kin.”