South Tyneside benefits claimants wrongly docked of almost £10m in payments
South Tyneside’s jobless and sick have been wrongly deprived of almost £10m in benefits payments in less than two years, Citizens Advice Bureau (CAB) bosses say.
That is how much government assessors have been accused of incorrectly cutting from hundreds of claimants and which was reinstated after costly appeals.
Around 90 per cent of cases involve sickness and disability payments – with £6,637 on average wrongly deducted per claim, according to CAB.
Incredibly, Ian Thompson, chief executive of CAB in South Tyneside, said it takes around 18 months for each appeal to be heard – the second longest delay in the country.
He warned assessment blunders around Universal Credit and Personal Independence Payment (PIP) were causing high anxiety and mental health distress among claimants.
Mr Thompson said: “It can’t be right that the most vulnerable people are having their money wrongly cut and then having to go through this appeals process.
“Of course there has to be a system in place to ensure benefits go to the right people, but this process clearly has to be re-examined.
“We hear from people on whose behalf we have lodged an appeal who say they cannot cope with the delay.
“Unfortunately there’s nothing we can do about that – how do you prioritise one disabled person above another disabled person?”
Mr Thompson’s team reclaimed £6m between April 2019 and March 2020, winning 907 appeals – or 80 per cent - of those lodged on behalf of 807 clients.
Almost £4m more has been won on appeal in the current financial year, with 89 per cent of the successful challenges being sickness and disability related.
Citizens Advice represents 82 per cent of all social security appeals in South Tyneside, meaning the total sum regained could be higher.
South Shields Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck and Jarrow’s Kate Osborne slammed the assessment system.
Mrs Lewell-Buck said: “It’s outrageous that people who need this support the most are the ones being punished.
“In the middle of a pandemic, to stop access to the money they need, is reprehensible. Maybe Citizens Advice should be running the benefits system.
“I cannot thank Citizens Advice enough for the work they do in South Tyneside to support people who find themselves in need.”
Ms Osborne said: “The amount of appeals won and money Citizens Advice has helped win back for residents is amazing, however it is not something that should be needed in the year 2021.
“Our social security system is supposed to be a safety net for those who need it the most.
“Instead, residents across South Tyneside are being denied their entitlement to benefits and made to fight for it through the courts system, often putting them through financial hardship and mental distress.”
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “We are committed to ensuring people get the support they are entitled to, and in the majority of cases we make the right decision, first time.
“Latest figures show that five per cent of the 4.1 million PIP decisions made following an assessment, and four per cent of the five million Employment and Support Allowance decisions, were overturned on appeal.”