I was told to repay £5,300 Universal Credit in error

A LABOURER who lost work in the pandemic and claimed Universal Credit was told he need to repay thousands of pounds in benefits.

But the hefty bill later turned out to be an error, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has admitted.

Mick Vokes, 48, from Eastleigh in Hampshire told the i newspaper that he was asked to repay £5,300 in benefits.

He was claiming Universal Credit after he lost his income to help cover the cost of his £600-a-month rent during Covid.

The DWP later said that he was not eligible for the support and needed to pay back the cash.

Mr Vokes did not have a tenancy agreement because he sublet his property.

The government department claimed the lack of paperwork meant he should not have received the benefit.

But Mr Vokes said he was not asked to provide one.

He told the newspaper: “If I had known that I needed a tenancy agreement I would have moved out and found somewhere else, but at no point did [the DWP] tell me it was necessary.

“I’ve suffered with depression in the past and this has really taken a toll on me. I’ve also moved out of my sublet and I’m currently homeless.

“I couldn’t stop thinking about how I’d find the money.”

The DWP admitted that the repayment request was issued in error and apologised to Mr Vokes.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “After reviewing the evidence as part of our verification process, we are removing the debt and repaying Mr Vokes anything owed.

"We apologise to Mr Vokes and have informed him that his case has been rectified."

“At the onset of the pandemic we rightly suspended certain verification processes as we could no longer see customers face-to-face.

"However, we made customers aware that we may return to seek this verification in the future.”

The DWP started checking Brits' claims for Universal Credit and other benefits through the pandemic in May.

The DWP relaxed the rules around applying for Universal Credit, Jobseekers Allowance and Employee and Support Allowance at the start of the pandemic so people could apply without visiting a Jobcentre.

Struggling were able to access benefits quickly and without going through all the usual checks and some of the requirements relating to proof of identity, housing costs and household circumstances were eased.

The DWP is working through checking one million claims to make sure they were not fraudulent.

That around one in six of the claims made during Covid and the government estimates that £8.4billion of benefits were overpaid.

Mr Vokes is not the only one who was told to repay benefits, but was later found to owe nothing.

Tina Newman, 40, was told she needed to repay £5,372 of the housing element of her Universal Credit because she didn't have a tenancy agreement or signed contract.

What happens if I'm asked to repay benefits?

Citizen's Advice benefits expert Lawrence Barratt said: “If you applied for Universal Credit in the early stages of the pandemic then the DWP may contact you for some additional information to support your claim."

“To ensure you don’t lose out on money you’re entitled to, make sure the contact information in your online journal is up to date.

"It's also important to respond to any calls or emails from the DWP as soon as possible.

"If you don't, there's a risk your benefit payments could be stopped or changed."

If you're struggling to provide evidence or need help about a claim than you can contact Citizen's Advice.

You can find your local Citizens Advice here or call 0808 800 9060.

If you are asked to make a repayment, this will be done in different ways, Turn2Us says:

  • Making deductions from your benefit payments
  • Taking it out of benefits that are owed to you
  • Taking amounts directly out of your wages
  • Getting a court order for debt recovery

The amount taken will depend on how much you owe and if you're still getting benefits.

You can ask the DWP to reduce the amount you are paying back each month.

The DWP can take you to court if you don'tr repay.

If you can't afford to repay you can ask Citizen's Advice for help.

If you don't think you've been overpaid and the request for repayment is an error, you can ask for the DWP to look at it again.

Turn2Us says a letter about over payments should include the following information:

  • How much you were overpaid each week
  • For what period you were overpaid
  • The total that has been overpaid.

You can get advice and support for appealing a decision for free from organisations like Citizens Advice and Benefits and Work.

 

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