Universal Credit claimants forced to repay benefits following DWP crackdown

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The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is cracking down on anyone who has failed to provide evidence of their identity to support their Universal Credit claim. Thousands of Britons weren’t able to do this during the pandemic because of stricter restrictions and some have since been confronted with a bill of thousands of pounds.

he number of people claiming Universal Credit doubled during the COVID-19 pandemic with nearly six million claiming the benefit in March 2021.

This surge in demand for Government help, combined with strict Coronavirus restrictions at the start of the pandemic, meant that thousands of claimants weren’t asked to prove their identity.

Although it wasn’t possible for the DWP to carry out face-to-face identity checks at the time, it has been rectifying this situation over the last few months.

This has led to claims that the DWP is demanding repayments from anyone who has failed to respond to a request for evidence.

Some Universal Credit claimants who have not yet supplied ID evidence have had their claims closed.

Although they may have a legitimate reason, the DWP has assumed that these are now overpayments and is demanding that Britons pay the money back.

In some cases, the DWP has arranged for automatic deductions to be automatically taken from a person’s wage.

It’s an approach which has been criticised by the Child Poverty Action Group which said legitimate claimants are being penalised.

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Claire Hall, a solicitor at the charity, said that this is affecting people who have made legitimate claims for financial help but haven’t been able to respond quickly.

She said: “Just as families are getting back on their feet, many of those who lost their jobs when the pandemic first hit are being put through a second ordeal by the DWP.

“Despite making legitimate claims for Universal Credit over 18 months ago, people have now received financially devastating debt notices simply because they haven’t been able to comply with requests to verify their details quickly.

Ms Hall urged the DWP to urgently review these cases and suspend collection of these ‘so called debts’ until it has managed to look into it properly.

The charity has been helping claimants deal with the DWP and has witnessed the upset it has caused.

However, a DWP spokesperson said: “At the onset of the pandemic we suspended certain verification processes as we could no longer see customers face-to-face, making customers aware that we may return to seek this verification in the future.

“Those who can prove entitlement in a reasonable timeframe will not be asked to repay any money.

“We have a responsibility to the taxpayer to ensure public money is properly spent. Therefore it is right and lawful that we seek to recover payments that claimants were not entitled to.”

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The spokesperson continued: “We have been unable to verify the details of these case studies as we have not been provided with the required information. We can do so if this is provided.”

More than half (64 percent) of British families rely on some kind of benefits to help them make ends meet.

However, £8.4 billion was overpaid in benefits in 2020 to 2021 according to Government figures.

£6.3 billion of this can be put down to fraud – a figure that the Government can’t afford to lose.

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