Supreme Court rules DWP repayment demands unlawful
Court victory for 65,000 overpaid benefit claimants
The Supreme Court has dismissed an appeal by Department for Work and Pensions and ruled that the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions cannot recover overpayments of social security benefits through the courts where the claimant is not at fault.
Between March 2006 and February 2007 the Government wrote to over 65,000 claimants telling them it could sue them in the County Court if they did not pay back overpayments which were caused by the DWP’s own mistakes.
Commenting on the ruling the Chief Executive of Child Poverty Action Group, Alison Garnham, said:
“This is an important decision that will protect many vulnerable people from debts created by the Government’s own errors. Even though the letters claimants were sent acknowledged it was the Government’s own errors and the debt was unrecoverable under its own social security law, explicit threats of court action were still made.
“We hope that the Department will regret the anguish caused to many of the people who received the letters and will seek to improve its own administration to avoid overpayment problems. The people we spoke to did not know they had been paid too much. They were not fraudulent or feckless claimants trying to get extra money. Rather, they were the innocent victims of DWP error and the complexity of the benefit system.
“It is a very great concern that if the Government’s plans to end legal aid for welfare benefits proceed, claimants will not be able to get advice on these complex issues in future and may face injustices as a consequence.”