Belfast Telegraph

More than 8,000 shortchanged Northern Ireland benefit claimants to get cash

By Mark Edwards

The Department of Communities (DfC) has estimated more than 8,000 people have been underpaid employment support allowance (ESA) over the last seven years, following a damning report by the National Audit Office.

An investigation found that an estimated 70,000 people across the UK who transferred to ESA over the last seven years have been underpaid.

ESA is offered to ill or disabled people who are unable to work.

A DfC spokesperson told the Belfast Telegraph: “The Department is working closely with DWP to identify the Northern Ireland claimants that may be affected and ensure they are reimbursed. 

"This is estimated to be just over 8,000.  We have also continued to engage directly with Advice Sector representatives to keep them actively informed.

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

SDLP deputy leader Nichola Mallon MLA has written to DfC asking for a breakdown of the number of people in Northern Ireland affected by underpayments and details of how and when the department will repay those who have lost out.

“The [National Audit Office] report determines that the average underpayment was £5,000 and that approximately 20,000 people were left over £11,000 short over the seven years,” the north Belfast MLA said.

“That is incredible. How many people have been forced further into poverty as a result of this error? How much damage has been done to the health of claimants as a result of the intense pressure of struggling to make ends meet?

She added: “The lives of vulnerable claimants are tough enough without being denied this support they need to get by.

“This Tory welfare system has been bedecked with failure after failure, with the Government having to be dragged to correct its errors as a result of High Court Rulings.

"This is further proof if needed, that the system is fundamentally flawed and needs completely overhauled.”

Belfast Telegraph Digital

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