The new rules state:
A new Civil Penalty of £50 is being introduced for claimants who incur an overpayment caused by:
- either (a) negligently making incorrect statements and failing to take reasonable steps to correct the error
- or (b) failing, without reasonable excuse, to provide information or to disclose changes in their circumstances.
The penalty will only be for cases of claimant error. If the claimant is successfully prosecuted for a fraud or offered an administrative penalty or caution they cannot then be issued with a Civil Penalty for the same offence.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) will impose a Civil Penalty where appropriate whilst for Local Authorities it is a Permissive Power and they may impose a civil penalty.
With advice services expected to be overwhelmed by cases following welfare reforms being implemented next year, and already seeing huge rises in their casework load for benefits, combined with cuts in legal aid meaning that claimants won’t have access to justice for benefits cases, it is mad that a fine for making mistakes on your form is being implemented.
Benefit forms are long and complicated, and many people go to advice services to help them fill it in, particularly for disability benefits. Many will make errors leading to overpayments, and now will have to cope with losing an extra £50 on top of having to repay the overpayments out of their benefits.
Is this simply a cynical revenue raising exercise? It is hard to see what other purpose this can have, since anyone who fraudulently claims can already be prosecuted, and anyone else has simply made a mistake and will repay any overpayments. As such, placing a fine on this can only punish those who have made genuine errors, and is not going to reduce the amount of errors made. It is just another cut to benefits, another attack on claimants.