TravelGuides – PhD student hit with £17,000 bill by DWP after universal credit error | Consumer affairs


TravelGuides – PhD student hit with £17,000 bill by DWP after universal credit error | Consumer affairs

A PhD student has been informed by Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) the she owes greater than £17,000 in overpaid advantages due to errors it made when assessing her declare for universal credit.

Vikki Reid, who’s in her mid-3os and widowed with an eight-12 months-previous little one, utilized for the profit when she began her analysis in 2019. She provided full particulars of her course and the stipend she had been granted by the college, and had no purpose to imagine something was unsuitable when she was informed she was entitled to obtain £1,316 a month. She lives in Cornwall the place rents are excessive, so her utility included assist with her housing prices.

Two years later, nevertheless, she was informed that she had been overpaid and introduced with a bill for £17,233. Her universal credit entitlement was set to fall by 50% a month, and the sum she receives was to be reduce additional because the DWP began to claw again the money it admits it paid her on account of its personal errors.


“The errors that were made were all on their side,” she says. “We will be below the poverty line. I don’t think I can justify the stress and emotional effort of doing the PhD if that is the case.”

Universal credit was launched in 2013 and rolled out to exchange numerous different funds, together with earnings help and different in-work advantages. Currently funds embrace a £20 uplift that’s set to finish within the autumn.

The normal allowance for a single particular person aged over 25 is presently £411 a month, and there are additional funds of as much as £282 a month every accessible for a household’s first two youngsters. On prime of this, there’s a housing component accessible to cowl hire or mortgage curiosity prices. Other earnings and financial savings are taken into consideration when a declare is made, and month-to-month funds may be adjusted because of this.


Reid’s PhD engaged on renewable vitality on the University of Exeter brings with it a stipend to cowl bills from the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council, which, primarily based on her hours, is value £11,500 a 12 months. When her utility for advantages was processed, the entire fee appears to have been disregarded.

No one seen till, final autumn, Reid notified the DWP that she was dropping her hours as a result of she couldn’t get sufficient childcare to work as regular. This prompted a evaluate of her declare and a letter saying that between January and December final 12 months she had been overpaid by just below £1,600.

At this level she was informed that 30% of her stipend ought to have been taken into consideration, and that she owed a number of months’ overpayments of £145 a time.

With the assistance of her dad, Reid appealed in opposition to this. But there was worse to come back. The new assessor determined that the second evaluation was additionally incorrect. In a prolonged doc explaining their determination, the assessor stated “there appears to be a misunderstanding” and “your stipend is to be treated as a grant for UC purposes”. Under the principles, because of this the entire fee needs to be counted, after tuition charges and a £110 a month allowance for books and journey.

The DWP can recuperate universal credit overpayments even when the scenario was all the way down to them. Photograph: Martin Lee/Alamy

The assessor wrote: “I acknowledge that you did supply evidence with respect to your student income in an appropriate time but due to an administrative error, your student income was not calculated and included in your UC award.”

Reid is just not alone in dealing with a bill for overpayments. Between July 2020 and the tip of June this 12 months, advisers on the charity Citizens Advice heard from greater than 3,500 individuals who wanted assist with advantages overpayments. During the identical interval, there have been greater than 50,000 views of its web site pages devoted to the topic.

Unlike with earlier advantages, the DWP can recuperate overpaid universal credit even whether it is accountable for the error, though Treasury tips do enable it to decide to not in distinctive circumstances. Recovery is finished via cuts to month-to-month advantages funds, taking cash immediately from an worker’s wages, or a courtroom order.

Citizens Advice says it has seen instances of universal credit overpayments the place notification got here fully out of the blue. In one occasion, a single dad or mum who was already in debt and utilizing meals vouchers was informed they owed £500 however not why, they usually struggled to contact the DWP.

Rachel Ingleby, a advantages skilled at Citizens Advice, says generally, the DWP will attempt to recoup cash for a universal credit overpayment through a deduction. “This means they’ll reduce the amount of benefits you’re paid each month until the debt is repaid,” she says.

“Of course, when deductions come out of the blue, that can make it really hard for people to manage their money.”

For Reid, who is just not entitled to widowed mother and father’ profit as a result of her husband had not constructed up sufficient nationwide insurance coverage contributions earlier than he died, the influence of the brand new determination is devastating.

She thinks her complete month-to-month earnings will fall by 35% however, regardless of being informed on 9 June that her entitlement could be reconsidered with a matter of urgency, she has not been informed what she’s going to get. “I’m still left in limbo, waiting to find out what will happen,” she says.

She is already struggling to search out childcare, as Covid has restricted her choices, and has journey prices to face to finish her analysis. “I would cycle [to university],” she says, “but that would take longer and mean more childcare costs.

“I will definitely have to leave my PhD if my income is reduced to the basic universal credit entitlement for someone with one child. I am so devastated by this, I did absolutely nothing wrong, but me and my child will have to pay. We already pay the burden of being a widowed-parent family.”

After Guardian Money acquired in contact, DWP stated it might look once more at Reid’s scenario.

A spokesperson stated: “We have paused the repayment activity and are carrying out a further review of this claim. We are in contact with Ms Reid and will advise and support her through this process.”

The DWP says the overwhelming majority of advantages are paid appropriately and on time, and that there are official errors in lower than 1% of instances.

It says seeks to recuperate any overpayments with out creating monetary hardship, and that those that are struggling can contact its debt administration unit. It says if the reimbursement price it proposes is simply too excessive, a decrease price may be mentioned.

Reid says she’s going to proceed with tribunal motion to get the choice overturned, however she is relieved that her case is being checked out once more.

“I don’t think any one person at universal credit or the DWP is out to cause poverty and inflict misery, but the policy doesn’t consider individuals, or treat us as people with lives,” she says. “The system is a poverty trap, and written into the law now is the fact the people who are poor enough to need benefits, have to pay when the DWP makes a mistake, however big or small.”

How does the DWP recoup cash from advantages overpayments?

Citizens Advice may help if in case you have been hit with a bill for overpayments. Here is how the system works:

  • The DWP has discretion over the way it recovers overpayments, and the way a lot.

  • Overpayments of universal credit are sometimes recovered through deductions to future universal credit funds.

  • The most quantity that may be deducted is 25% of the universal credit normal allowance, DWP says.

  • Citizens Advice says, in follow, deductions are typically taken at 30%, 25% or 15% of the usual allowance, with 30% usually the speed if an individual is discovered responsible of an offence or has accepted a penalty in connection with the overpayment.

  • The DWP can scale back the quantity of the debt it recovers every month if somebody is experiencing monetary hardship because of this. Citizens Advice says it may possibly help individuals with this course of.

TravelGuides – PhD student hit with £17,000 bill by DWP after universal credit error | Consumer affairs



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