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DWP overreach

 

nevip
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Two clients have shown me two identical letters this week that each of them has received regarding their ESA.  The letters are notices of their ESA being reviewed.  The stated reason is (and this bit is emphasised) “……you didn’t tell us that your Disability Living Allowance has ended”.  The letter talks about an overpayment and ends with a thinly veiled threat of a civil penalty.  A reply slip is included.  Both were failed conversion cases.

Part of the response that I compiled for one client included a passage stating that the DLA stopped by operation of law (a decision on the PIP claim) and that the ending of DLA is not in itself a notifiable change of circumstances.  This is even before we get into the differing qualifying criteria for ESA/DLA/PIP.

To my mind this is disgraceful behaviour by the Department.  Vulnerable people already reeling from the loss of financial support are being kicked while they are down, by a threat of legal action.  Just when you thought the Department couldn’t stoop any lower it has orchestrated a campaign of state bullying.  I hope its employees are proud of themselves.

I am left to wonder whether this is a national trend or the handiwork of some overzealous local official.  Anyone else seen this?

 

     
Daphne
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That is shocking! You don’t have a redacted copy you could post/send me do you? I would like to raise it via stakeholders if that was OK? I could check whether a national move or, as you say, a local initiative.

     
nevip
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Daphne

I am seeing the second client again next week and I am hoping to get a copy then and will send it to you.

     
Benny Fitzpatrick
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I have not actually seen one of these yet, but I am aware of a colleague’s case where the same scenario appears to be playing out. So maybe not the action of some “over-zealous local official”.

     
Peter Turville
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Not quite the same but .......

Decision notice [with letter code - ORG7 WA Fraud].

Interestingly it has no issue address but the telephone contact details provided are those for Debt Management. The alleged o/p is of IS & ESA for a past period. Client is now on PC. Now awaiting tribunal hearing.

“We wrote to you about a change of circumstances ....... As a result you have been overpaid and must now repay this money.

[in bold] You are in a minority of people who have received money they are not entitled to.

You were overpaid because on [date] you wrongly told us your were not receiving an occupational pension when you made a claim for ESA(IR).

Social security law entititles the DWP to recover this money back from you. This decision does not affect any other action, including proceedings in a criminal court, which we may not take in your case.

Most people have already made arrangements to pay back the overpayment. You have a number of options available to you to repay this overpayment.”

There then follows details about how to pay the money back including deduction from earnings.

I like the bit about ‘most people have already made arrangements to pay back the overpayment’ - its very generous of those people to pay back our clients o/p (crowd funding?)!!

     
nevip
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Yes, I’ve seen those letters too, Peter.  Irritating aren’t they?

     
neilbateman
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It seems that DWP want it both ways.  They routinely state in appeal submissions that an award of PIP or DLA is irrelevant to ESA entitlement and vice versa.

     
nevip
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Good point Neil.  There’s so much to throw back in their faces.

     
grant
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Not seen any of the specific letters you mention, Paul. Are these cases where the ending of the DLA award has removed an entitlement to the SDP, or is simply the ending of the DLA per se they are talking about?

     
nevip
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Grant.

When DLA was terminated, DLA notified ESA at the time but there was a delay before ESA acted on the information and wrote to the claimants informing them of their new entitlement.  The overpayment letters came afterward.  The ESA section are now trying to make the claimants pay for its failure to act timeously on information it had at its fingertips.  This, of course, goes to the heart of causation under s71 of the Administration Act.

This is one thing however.  What makes it more insidious is the cold, formal language of the letters, with the civil penalty information not being just a passing reference in the letter but a substantial part of it.  It seems to me that if you wanted an example of the Department going out of its way to design a letter with the intention of frightening claimants then this is it.

It is a further example of the increasing dehumanisation that has been slowly creeping into the benefit system for many years.

     
Pete C
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I think we have been here before, I seem to recall DWP sending letters promising recovery action in the Civil Courts but this was ruled illegal after action by (I think) CPAG.

     
nevip
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Whether there is a recoverable overpayment is not entirely straightforward as anyone familiar with the case law knows.  That can be dealt with (or not) through the usual channels and that is not my main concern here.  Of immediate concern is the way this letter is framed with its cursory and misleading exposition of the civil penalty provisions and the, to my mind, way that it can be read by the less well knowing and the vulnerable as intimidatory.

It is not appropriate, nor conducive to fair and reasonable public administration to lay this on the line for claimants at such an early stage in the process of a benefit review.  It is high handed and insensitive.  And there is simply no need for it.

     

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Daphne
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Thanks Paul - will raise via stakeholders…let you know when I hear anything…

Can I just check - is it just the fact that DLA ended they are talking about or has there been an overpayment of the sdp?

      [ Edited: 17 Nov 2017 at 04:27 pm by Daphne ]
nevip
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Thanks Daphne.  Much appreciated.