Scrutiny publishes report following review into overpayment of benefits
9th October 2023
The Health and Social Security Scrutiny Panel (the Panel) has today published a report following its review into the overpayment of Income Support benefits. The report identifies 45 key findings and 26 recommendations.
The Panel launched its review in June to investigate the extent and causes of benefit overpayments and the effects that overpayments have on claimants of Income Support benefits. The evidence gathered from individuals, organisations and charities highlighted three key themes:
• The significant impact of overpayments on finances and wellbeing,
• Shortcomings in policies and processes, and inconsistency in their application,
• Concerns with Customer and Local Services' (CLS) communication.
Additionally, the Panel found that approximately 1 in 5 people receiving Income Support are repaying overpayments, with the two most cited reasons for the overpayment of benefits being errors made by CLS and the failure or delay of claimants disclosing change of circumstances.
The 26 recommendations made by the Panel in the report include the following:
- When overpayments of Income Support occur due to errors made by Customer and Local Services, the mistake should be acknowledged and apologised for, and the overpayment amount should not be recovered by the Department.
- The Minister for Social Security should ensure that claimants are either appropriately signposted to support services when they are notified of an overpayment, or Income Support Officers ensure the wellbeing of the claimant is considered during the repayment plan process.
- The Minister should undertake a review of the current guidelines that are used to determine a repayment amount to ensure that repayment plans are not causing financial hardship and leaving individuals or families financially vulnerable.
The Panel was also concerned to hear reports of a lack of empathy among Income Support staff and has recommended the introduction of mandatory training on learning difficulties, trauma informed practice, and unconscious bias.
Deputy Rob Ward, Chair of the Panel, said:
"There are several issues around the creation of, and impact from overpayments of income support. The extent of this impact on people's lives and health cannot be underestimated, and as such I hope that all of the Panel's findings and recommendations are seen as constructive comments on how to improve a system that so many rely upon for support.
"I would like to give particular thanks to members of the public who gave evidence of often a very personal and difficult nature to the panel. Their input was invaluable in producing this report."
The full report can be accessed here. A link to the digital summary of the report is available here.
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