In Brief

‘National scandal’ as 5,000 people die after benefits error

Government underpaid 70,000 claimants by £340m between 2011 and 2014

Five thousand people died before they could be refunded for a government mistake that left seriously ill and disabled benefit claimants thousands of pounds out of pocket.

During a government overhaul of incapacity benefits, approximately 70,000 claimants were originally estimated to have been underpaid about £340m between 2011 and 2014.

As new government data revealed that 5,000 ill and disabled people died before receiving the money they were owed, the disability rights campaigner and Labour MP Marsha de Cordova described the news as a “national scandal”.

Accusing the government of “consistently failing sick and disabled people,” she told The Guardian “the government must now speedily complete the remaining reassessments for the thousands of people still waiting so that everyone who has lost out receives payment as quickly as possible”.

Evan Odell, of Disability Rights UK, said: “the problems with the employment and support allowance system that have led to hundreds of millions of pounds of arrears payments are still present”.

The initial error was overseen by the then-Conservative secretary of state for work and pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, who was in post for all but the last few months of the period in question. The current housing minister, Esther McVey, was a DWP minister for part of the period.

In 2018, a cross-party group of MPs criticised the DWP’s “culture of indifference” after it took six years to correct the error. In the same year, the government admitted that 4,600 disabled people wrongly lost access to a benefit payment after missing an assessment.

Yesterday, a DWP spokesperson said: “We have worked hard to ensure that anyone affected by this issue receives the benefits they are entitled to, and in the minority of cases where a claimant has sadly died we have paid their next of kin.”

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