Katy, 53, works as a carer for dementia patients on a zero hours contract. She lives with her two adult sons who both have autism and ADHD and rely on her for practical and emotional support. Katy loves her job but says it would be impossible to work any more hours and at the same time give her sons the proper care they need. This keeps her in a state of financial hardship and she struggles to make ends meet on her small income. Katy told us she had been relying on foodbanks and sometimes sacrificing her own meals to ensure her sons had enough.
Katy claims Universal Credit (UC) and in 2019, she contacted the UC office to inform them of a change of circumstances. Her son had recently started a paid apprenticeship and she queried whether her entitlement would change to account for this. Katy was wrongly told that it wouldn’t impact her claim and she would continue to receive the same money each month.
Two years later she was hit with a bill of over £8600 stating that she had been overpaid UC. She was told that this money would be deducted from her monthly payments leaving her with even less to live on. Katy contacted the DWP straight away to question why she had been overpaid when she had informed them of her situation two years prior and requested a mandatory reconsideration of the decision. When this was refused she sought specialist advice from Citizens Advice but was told they couldn’t take on her case and they signposted her to North Bristol Advice Centre (NBAC).
We advised Katy that her appeal would not succeed because under the Universal Credit rules all overpayments are recoverable including those caused by DWP error. However Katy wished to proceed so we supported her.
We lodged an appeal on Katy’s behalf and the case was taken to tribunal where our adviser represented her. While the tribunal acknowledged that the DWP had repeatedly miscalculated Katy’s entitlement to UC, they concluded that the overpayment was recoverable nonetheless and the appeal was refused.
We then wrote to the debt management department of the DWP requesting that they waive the overpayment on the grounds that Katy was not responsible for the mistakes made with her claim, however this was also refused.
Unable to take the case further on their own, NBAC enlisted the help of Public Law Project (PLP) – a London charity providing specialist legal support. With the help of the PLP, Katy brought a judicial review challenge to the High Court. NBAC worked closely with PLP throughout the pre-trial proceedings.
The judge found in our client’s favour, ruling that the decision to recover the debt was unlawful and she should not have to repay the money.
This was a fantastic result for Katy and her sons. The success of this case will have a wider significance for other claimants who find themselves in a similar situation in the future, setting a precedent for other cases of official error overpayments.
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