The Parliamentary Ombudsman has told the DWP to give a claimant £7,500 compensation and called on the department to compensate 118,000 other claimants it says have been treated unjustly, in a report released this month.
The claimant, Miss U was transferred from incapacity benefit to ESA, but the DWP failed to assess her for income-related ESA. As a result Miss U not only missed out on ESA but also on passported benefits, such as the Warm Home discount and free prescriptions.
Between 2012 and 2017 Miss U was about £80 a week worse-off than she should have been, roughly halving her ESA income for five years.
Miss U had severe physical and mental health issues. The lack of money meant that she was unable to have an adequate diet or to heat her home, causing both her mental health and her arthritis to deteriorate.
As a result, amongst other things, Miss U’s depression worsened, her hair fell out, she lost a lot of weight, was unable to afford urgent medical treatment and was due to have a toe amputated
Miss U was given arrears of £19, 833 by the DWP.
However, the Ombudsman has instructed the DWP to also make a payment of £7,500 to compensate her for the years that she lived in hardship and also add interest to the benefits arrears payments as well sending a written apology.
The DWP have agreed to the apology and the interest payments but are arguing that the compensation award is too generous.
Miss U, along with thousands of other claimants had missed out on income-related ESA when they were transferred from incapacity benefit, because the DWP did not assess them properly.
After a long battle to evade responsibility, the DWP launched a LEAP exercise to identify claimants who had lost out and pay them arrears.
However, Miss U had received help from a welfare rights worker and so had obtained her arrears payment without having been part of the LEAP review.
The Ombudsman is now recommending that the DWP should offer a remedy to all of those who went through the LEAP process and suffered an injustice as a result of their maladministration.
The DWP, however, argue that they should not pay blanket compensation to other claimants, essentially because it would cost too much and because it is in their view sufficient that they have now improved the way they work in regard to identifying claimants entitled to income-related ESA.
It says the unfortunate handling of Ms U’s case was a “simple misunderstanding” and there is no evidence that other non-LEAP exercise claimants were affected.
However, the Ombudsman says “If Ms U’s decisions were typical, DWP will have declined to make others special payments on wrongly applied grounds, will have told them they could not complain to its Independent Case Examiner and will not have told them about the Ombudsman. That means that likely routes for such evidence were closed off.”
The Ombudsman has given the DWP three months to:
- says what action it will take and when to remedy financial and non-financial losses caused to those people adversely affected by the migration not included in the LEAP exercise
- reconsiders its decision to rule out compensating people included in the LEAP exercise for financial and nonfinancial losses
- report to the Work and Pensions Select Committee on its progress and what decisions it makes about how to remedy its failings.
The Ombudsman went on to say:
“We think it is extremely disappointing that having accepted the maladministration we identified, DWP has not accepted our recommendations to do something proactive about others it knows must be in the same position as Ms U.”