'DWP took me to court for 30p error – it cost me my home and £20,000'

April 13, 2024
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A father says he has been forced to sell his home and pay back nearly £20,000 in overpayments after mistakenly ticking the wrong box on a form.

George Henderson, 64, told the Guardian he made the mistake when claiming the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) benefit for his son John who has learning difficulties.

Mr Henderson said he opted to claim Carer’s Allowance after John, who had become addicted to heroin, was having his disability benefit taken by drug dealers every week.

The benefit was only 30p more a week than what John was already getting. However, it allowed Mr Henderson to have the money deposited into his account instead, which he would then share with his son as part of a daily allowance.

However, misunderstanding the form, Mr Henderson accidentally marked “unemployed” on the application, thinking it was referring to his son.

The error resulted in the DWP demanding six years’ worth of payments back, amassing to £19,506.20, as well as prosecuting him for fraud.

Mr Henderson told the Guardian that he was forced to sell his former two-bedroom council house to pay the debt or face a seven-month jail term.

Feeling “heartbroken”, Mr Henderson eventually sold his property for £115,000 and after paying off his mortgage and the DWP, he said he was left with just £6,000.

Despite protesting his innocence, investigators said he had lied about having a job and had ignored letters reminding him to report any changes in circumstances.

A judge at Preston Crown Court gave Mr Henderson a 32-week suspended sentence in 2018 and ordered him to wear an electronic tag for 16 weeks, which “humiliated” him.

Mr Henderson, who was left feeling suicidal after the prosecution, then had to be housed by the local council in sheltered accommodation.

He now relies on Universal Credit to get by as he’s too unwell to work.

Mr Henderson told the Guardian: “Believe it or not, when I moved in I couldn’t get in and out of the bath because I’ve got two hip replacements and I’ve got a serious spinal condition. So it cost them £7,000 to put in a wet room.

“It’s costing them the Universal Credit. It’s absolutely ludicrous. It’s actually cost the taxpayer or the Government money by doing this.”

To help clear his name, Mr Henderson said he wrote to Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary.

Last month he received a letter from the DWP apologising for the situation, however, it refused to give him the money back.

According to the Guardian, the letter reads: “The appeal conceded that you were a convincing and credible witness [and] it was more probable than not that you were telling the truth and that the false declaration was an innocent mistake.

“I am so sorry that you feel that experiences with DWP have contributed to your financial problems, severe emotional trauma and mental health.”

However, Mr Henderson said he refuses to accept the apology, indicating that it shouldn’t have taken six years for the DWP to inform him that the wrong box had been ticked.

He said: “Why not in the first year? Then it would be acceptable. I would have been able to pay the first year, I made a mistake.”

A DWP spokesperson told the Guardian: “We are committed to fairly supporting all those who need the welfare system while fulfilling our duty to treating taxpayers’ money responsibly.

“Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers’ money when this has not occurred. We will work with those who need support with their repayment terms whilst protecting the public purse.”



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