The UK Government has been urged to write off Carer’s Allowance (CA) overpayment debts as evidence grows that unpaid carers, who save the economy around £132bn every year, are facing severe stress and hardship.
It is estimated that there are around 7 million carers in the UK (around 1 in 8 adults) – set to rise to 9 million – who make an unpaid contribution of £132 billion to the UK economy every year.
Most people will become a carer at some point in their lives, caring for a partner, parent, friend or disabled child who cannot cope without their support.
Many of these people find it difficult to make ends meet. According to Carers UK’s 2019 ‘State of Caring’ report, 39% are in financial hardship and 73% of carers on Carer’s Allowance are unable to afford to save for retirement.
A recent report from the Work and Pensions Select Committee highlighted the need for the Government to make changes in the benefit system to better support unpaid carers.
With the number of carers at an all-time high, saving the Treasury billions of pounds annually, the Committee says it is even more vital that the Government provides carers with both the support and recognition they deserve.
Instead, administrative failures by DWP have led to substantial overpayments which the Department is now clawing back as debt, leading unsurprisingly to substantial distress and hardship for carers.
I have always worked and a few years ago I was put in a position that turned my life upside down. My mum had dementia and Alzheimer’s. I accidentally did too many hours, I was caring for my mum and my mentally ill son and holding down my job, I wasn’t aware that I’d done wrong until I was called for an interview at the job centre.
I was charged with fraud and taken to court, I was given community service of 180 hours unpaid work as if I didn’t have enough to deal with. My son went into care because I couldn’t cope, and I have now had to give up work and care for mum. I had to move in with her and give up my home, my job, my life.
I am now having to pay the money back. My own health has suffered, and my finances are rock bottom. I feel my life has been in a downward spiral and I haven’t been able to cope since.Carer with a CA overpayment debt of £3,000
Frank Field MP, Chair of the Work and Pensions Committee, 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 Department’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.
“DWP has got its priorities all wrong. Bullying carers is no way to recognise, much less support, 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.”
Emily Holzhausen OBE, Director of Policy and Public Affairs at Carers UK, said: “Carers who have been impacted by overpayments of Carer’s Allowance – many already struggling financially – are experiencing considerable stress and anxiety, facing debt that could affect their incomes for years to come on top of demanding caring responsibilities.
“The Department must urgently consider writing off overpayments where its administrative failures have allowed them to accrue. They should also assess the impact of their recovery of overpayments to ensure they don’t push people into further financial hardship.
“It’s clear that the current design of Carer’s Allowance places a huge administrative burden on carers and causes a lot of confusion. Carers need a solution to the sharp cliff edge of the earnings threshold that currently means their earning even £1 over the threshold sees a 100% loss of benefit.
“It is the DWP’s job to provide frequent and clear information about the earnings threshold and they must introduce a simpler way for carers to track and report their earnings.”