A GRANDMOTHER has described the “pure hell” of being told to repay nearly £20,000 in benefits that later turned out to be a mistake.
Christina Goss, 62, was deemed to have limited capacity to work when claiming Universal Credit in January 2020.
Grandmother of four Christina Goss was eventually told she didn’t owe the cash[/caption]
She moved into a new flat later that year and continued getting the benefit, the Daily Record reports.
But in September 2021 she was told by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) that her payments would be stopped.
She was also told that she would have to pay back money she had already received, adding up to £19,900.
Christina, from East Kilbride, says she was told the reason was because she had not provided evidence of her tenancy agreement.
The DWP has now apologised for the error and has cancelled the debt.
But her council tax support from the local authority was also stopped as a result of the error in a further blow to her finances.
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Council tax support offers a discount for those on low incomes, and eligibility is often based on whether you get Universal Credit.
She says she was threatened with debt collectors for the council tax bill if she didn’t return the discount cash.
The grandmother of four told the newspaper: “It’s hard enough having to accept the help from Universal Credit in the first place.
“I was so shocked at how I was treated. It was just absolute pure hell.
The DWP said it is also working with the local authority to resolve the council tax issue, and the local council told the newspaper that the situation has now been resolved.
A DWP spokesperson said: “We are incredibly sorry for the distress caused to Ms Goss.
“We have cancelled her repayment to us and are working with South Lanarkshire Council to resolve the issue with her council tax.”
It’s not the first time someone’s been asked to repay benefits in error by the DWP.
Mick Vokes, 48, from Eastleigh in Hampshire, was asked to repay £5,300 in benefits.
He was claiming Universal Credit after he lost his income to help cover the cost of his £600-a-month rent during Covid.
Tina Newman, 40, was told she needed to repay £5,372 of the housing element of her Universal Credit because she didn’t have a tenancy agreement or signed contract.
And the Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) has warned that legitimate claims for Universal Credit are wrongly being stopped, because of a crackdown on claims after Covid.
Rules for claiming were loosened during lockdowns, suspending face-to-face meetings and requirements for proof of identity and housing costs.
Now the government is going back to check the details of these claims to make sure they are not fraudulent.
But requests for repayments of Universal Credit or any benefit can happen for a variety of reasons.
You could be asked to pay back a benefit all or in part, if there’s been a mistake in calculating payments and you are not eligible or have been overpaid.
But a demand to pay back benefits may not always be correct, as in this case, and you can challenge repayment requests.
What happens if I’m asked to repay benefits?
If you are asked to make a repayment, this will be done in different ways, Turn2Us says:
- Making deductions from your benefit payments
- Taking it out of benefits that are owed to you
- Taking amounts directly out of your wages
- Getting a court order for debt recovery
The amount taken will depend on how much you owe and if you’re still getting benefits.
You can ask the DWP to reduce the amount you are paying back each month.
The DWP can take you to court if you don’t repay.
If you can’t afford to repay you can ask Citizen’s Advice for help.
If you don’t think you’ve been overpaid and the request for repayment is an error, you can ask for the DWP to look at it again.
Turn2Us says a letter about over payments should include the following information:
- How much you were overpaid each week
- For what period you were overpaid
- The total that has been overpaid.
You can get advice and support for appealing a decision for free from organisations like Citizens Advice and Benefits and Work.
You should keep your contact details up to date so the DWP can get hold of you and you don’t miss any demands.
It’s also important to respond to any calls or emails from the DWP as soon as possible, or there’s a risk your benefit payments could be stopped or changed.
Citizen’s Advice benefits expert Lawrence Barratt previously told The Sun: “If you applied for Universal Credit in the early stages of the pandemic then the DWP may contact you for some additional information to support your claim.”
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