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DWP benefit underpayment reaches record high of almost £2bn

Underpayment of benefits to those entitled to them reached a record rate in 2015-16 of £1.7bn, meaning that 1% of benefits went unpaid, DWP figures have revealed.

Nearly 65% of underpaid benefits – £1bn a year – were the result of inaccurate information being provided by claimants, with Employment and Support Allowance being underpaid the most.

The government has said that it is providing more help to claimants after it found that the common source of inaccurate information concerned the amount of income claimants received, particularly in relation to other benefits.

“We are committed to ensuring people receive the benefits they are entitled to. Our frontline staff discuss all the support that is available with claimants and we work closely with charities and other organisation to keep people informed of their entitlements,” said a DWP spokesman.

“We have extensive guidance on and advisers available over the phone and in person to help people through the claiming process. We are also simplifying the system with the introduction of Universal Credit.”

The DWP’s figures showed that the biggest rise in benefit underpayments in 2015-16 was in Pension Credit, with the department admitting that the biggest cause for this was due to official error rather than any mistakes made by the claimant.

In December 2015, a Work and Pensions Select Committee report on benefit delivery urged the DWP to treat underpayment more seriously as delays often forced claimants to go hungry.

The report concluded that benefit problems “often led claimants to face difficult decisions over whether to pay their rent or provide essentials such as food, gas and electricity for their household”, with many becoming reliant on food banks due to a lack of income.

Despite this, the figures showed that overpayment of benefits affected the DWP’s finances more greatly with overpayments totalling £3.3bn, equivalent to 1.9% of all benefit payments.

While this figure was higher than that of underpayment, the amount paid out by the department as a result of error or fraud has still fallen in the past six years, it reported.

(Image c. Rui Vieira and PA Wire)

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