Wednesday, 9 May 2012

Evidence of errors in benefit overpayments

Every experienced welfare rights adviser knows that the scale of errors in benefit overpayment decision is massive - time and again the amounts are inflated or even when correct, the overpayments are not legally recoverable. In my experience the vast majority of the amounts allegedly overpaid in the cases I have dealt with have been wrong - either the amounts have been assessed incorrectly and the law not properly followed, or the person is still entitled to some or all of the overpaid benefit.

Using the Freedom of Information Act  2000, I have obtained figures from DWP about the scale of errors in benefit overpayments.  The data lags behind so the latest is a while ago, but the trends are consistent. 

One of the sources is the DWP's report on standards of decision making published in March 2010 . 

DWP's own figures on the percentage of benefit overpayment decisions which are accurate
Furthermore, Tribunal statistics show that between 32% and 35% of appeals against benefit overpayments succeed, which rises to 47% when someone is represented.  Again, using the Freedom of Information Act, I have also established that in addition, a very high number of appeals against benefit overpayments are revised in the appellants' favour without having to go to Tribunal.  
Whichever way you look at it, the figures illustrate the importance of always appealing against an overpayment decision and that one must not accept at face value, the amounts allegedly overpaid or the state's right to be get money off people. 

Worryingly, this includes cases of fraudulent overpayments.  Sadly too few criminal defence lawyers and the criminal courts understand the importance and relevance of the benefits appeals process. 

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