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Overpaid benefits appeal dismissed

Supreme Court judges have unanimously dismissed a Government challenge to a legal victory by the Child Poverty Action Group regarding overpaid benefits.

The charity originally went to court after the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) sent out 65,000 letters to benefits claimants telling them they could face legal action if their overpayments were not returned.

Judges at the Court of Appeal ruled in October last year that the Government had no power to recover overpaid social security benefits from claimants who had done nothing wrong.

The Secretary of State then took the case to the highest court in the land for a final decision.

Between March 2006 and February 2007 the Government wrote to claimants telling them it could sue them in the county court if they did not pay back overpayments.

The letters acknowledged that the money was paid due to the DWP's own mistakes. The judges also ordered that the letters sent out to overpaid claimants, suspended pending their decision, should cease.

The DWP's own figures state that at least £1.1 billion a year is paid out in error.

The Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) was unsuccessful in the High Court but three judges at the Court of Appeal agreed there was no power of recovery where the overpayments were the result of a mistake and not of misrepresentation or fraud.

Commenting on the ruling, chief executive of CPAG Alison Garnham said: "This is an important decision that will protect many vulnerable people from debts created by the Government's own errors.

"Even though the letters claimants were sent acknowledged it was the Government's own errors and the debt was unrecoverable under its own social security law, explicit threats of court action were still made. We hope that the department will regret the anguish caused to many of the people who received the letters."

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