7th December, 2023
In earlier bulletins, I highlighted the chaos & hardship caused by DWP’s “Risk Review” team. More recently, I’ve received several referrals concerning DWP’s “Enhanced Review” checks, which are causing UC to be unfairly refused at point of claim or existing awards being retrospectively reduced or cancelled, oftentimes, illegally.
One such case, involved a £10,000 overpayment demand. It was created by cancelling an earlier award of “housing costs”, relating to a 2-bed property in London. DWP awarded the costs in March 2020 when the young graduate first claimed Universal Credit and continued paying until January 2022 when she started full-time work in the NHS, which she duly reported.
The problem arose when DWP asked her, 1 month after her award ended to provide validation documents. She supplied everything, apart from her tenancy agreement, which had been misplaced. This was explained to DWP, however, on 3rd March 2022, a Decision Maker cancelled the “housing element” back to the date of her original award. My client knew nothing of the problem, until 16 months later, when DWP’s “Debt Management” sent an “Attachment of Earnings” demand to her employer, whose HR section immediately confronted my client; she was stunned by the news.
Believing it was a mistake, she phoned DWP, spoke to an agent who couldn’t explain how the overpayment occurred, but promised to investigate. She later emailed to say, my client’s journal had been restored, so she could access a letter dated 3rd March 2022 posted on the journal.
Importantly, the letter was never posted to my client, at her home address, which is the conventional way of notification. I maintained, posting the letter, simply to the redundant journal, one month after my client’s award ended, did not satisfy the Secretary of State’s obligations, set out in Regulation 51 of the UC (Decisions & Appeals) Regulations 2013. This also explained why she failed to act until the matter was first raised by her employer.
My client sought a Mandatory Reconsideration, which was refused by DWP, on the grounds it was outwith the 13-month absolute time limit. On the face of it, my client’s appeal rights had lapsed. But, her delay in responding, was entirely due to her not knowing there had been an alleged overpayment.
I questioned DWP’s justification for creating the overpayment. The notification letter suggested, the overpayment was caused by a “late notification of a “change in circumstances”, when apart from the move to full-time work, no other change existed. DWP in its response acknowledged this was a mistake. The Decision Maker also dismissed the notion a “revision” of her award had taken place. This was a most surprising admission, as an overpayment cannot be created without, a revision of earlier awards.
It’s also well-established law, that when DWP suspends payment, as it did in this case, in February 2022, any subsequent overpayment is limited to the period of the suspension. There is no authority, to retrospectively “cancel” an element of the award, previously accepted as warranted.
I argued, in a submission made to a District Judge, the Overpayment decision should be set aside as it has been incompetently raised and notified. In my view, this is possible applying UC Decisions & Appeals Regulations 2013 because the journal overpayment notification was ineffective, as it was NOT posted to my client’s address. I also argued that as the decision to create the overpayment was seriously flawed, the Tribunal should assume jurisdiction and revise the decision on the grounds it was caused by “official error”.
Please to say, DWP conceded after the District Judge issued a Directions Notice. My client no longer needs to repay the £10K and has received a refund from DWP for the £300 of wages previously arrested by her employer.
I dealt with this case on a No win, no fee basis. If you encounter anything like this, I recommend you seeking advice & assistance from a Welfare Rights or Financial Inclusion service. Alternatively, if you can’t access such a service, contact email@example.com or phone 07733 080 389.
UC Advice & Advocacy Ltd