Belfast Telegraph

8000 ESA claimants lost £3k due to errors, claims SDLP

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon has said that 8000 Employment and Support Allowance claimants in Northern Ireland could have lost around £3k each due to administrative errors.

The North Belfast MLA contacted the Department of Communities (DoC) following revelations by the Audit Office in England that as many as 70,000 claimants for ESA have been underpaid due to administrative errors.

Mrs Mallon wrote to the DoC to seek clarification on whether claimants in Northern Ireland were also affected. 

In a response today the Department has confirmed that around 8000 claimants here are likely to have been affected, with average arrears estimated to be around £3000 per claimant.

“The fact that some 8,000 ESA claimants here have been underpaid an average of £3000 each as a result of another benefit blunder is scandalous," Mrs Mallon said.

"The fact that this shocking information has only come to light after the SDLP pursued the matter is also concerning.

"There is no question that this error has forced people further into poverty. The Department for Communities must set out clearly how and when those affected will be paid what they are owed. The lives of vulnerable claimants are tough enough without being denied the support they are entitled to for seven years.

Mrs Mallon said that the benefits system was in need of an overhaul.

"While the DUP and Sinn Fein continue their game of political brinkmanship this is another stark example of how people are being failed and forced to endure hardship with no local Minister, Government and Assembly in place to protect them and hold people to account," she said.

"This Tory welfare system has been bedecked with failure after failure with the Government only responding when forced to by High Court rulings or damming independent reports. This is further proof if at all needed, that the system is fundamentally flawed and needs completely overhauled".

A DfC spokesperson said: “The Department has established that just over 8,000 Northern Ireland claimants may be affected.

"All claimants who are impacted will be contacted directly by the Department. In line with the DWP approach, we will aim to complete a review of all affected cases by April 2019.”

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