Thousands of vulnerable people left short on benefits after DWP bungle

At Hylton Potts, we like to present a balanced view of the benefits system and those who manage it, highlighting the good as well as the bad. Unfortunately, as the DWP lurches from one disaster to another, it can sometimes be difficult to present any good news stories.

Perhaps the most alarming part of all is that when yet another shocking tale of incompetence emerges, it is always because it has been discovered by some external enquiry rather than through the DWP’s own internal audit channels.

This time, we have the National Audit Office to thank for bringing to light the fact that an estimated 70,000 people who have transferred across to Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) over the past seven years have been underpaid to the tune of thousands of pounds.

Sick and disabled robbed of thousands

The mistake appears to stem from a mix up over income related ESA and contribution based ESA. The former is means tested, and is now being swallowed up as part of Universal Credit, a development which will not inspire confidence among claimants. The latter is based purely on national insurance contributions, and is not means-tested.

What seems to have happened is that many who were entitled to income related ESA only received contribution based benefits. In other words, as so often seems to be the case, it has been those who are in the greatest need that have missed out.

Unable to meet basic living costs

So how much have these claimants been missing out on? Of course, it depends on personal circumstances, but in many cases, it amounts to £75 per week. Remember, this is money that is awarded on the basis on means testing – in other words, it is what the government feels families need in order to meet their basic living costs.

Given that in most cases, this is a story that goes back a number of years, it is easy to see how the total can run into the thousands. On average, those affected are estimated to have missed out on around £5,000 in benefits to which they were rightfully entitled. Around 20,000 of those affected have been underpaid to the tune of £11,500 and for some, the total is as much as £20,000.

Will they get it back?

So does this mean that after months or years of struggling to get by on next to nothing, these claimants can at least enjoy something of a windfall now? It seems more than likely that most will have got themselves into debt to survive, so in the spirit of “better late than never,” putting things right now could make all the difference.

The answer is not entirely clear. The good news is that the DWP will pay back £340 million in underpayments. The bad news is that the total amount underpaid is estimated to be around £500 million. The discrepancy arises because of a court ruling that means any underpayments made prior to October 2014 cannot be paid back.

Have you been affected?

With the chaos surrounding the transfer to Universal Credit, yet another benefits foul up is the last thing anyone needs. If you think you might have been affected and are possibly one of the 70,000 who has been underpaid, the staff here at Hylton Potts would be happy to help.

We appreciate that the DWP is not the easiest government body to deal with, but we have the dubious honour of doing so day in day out, so why not let us step in and speak to them on your behalf?

The sooner we can take a proper look at your specific circumstances, the faster we can do something to help. Please feel free to give us a ring on 020 7381 8111, or email us at