Carer's allowance overpayments: 'Unsung heroes' being chased for £251m by DWP

A total of £251m is being clawed back from unpaid carers after many unwittingly went over the benefit earnings threshold.

Nearly 135,000 people who care for loved ones, hailed by the government as "unsung heroes", are being chased for carer's allowance overpayments, most of them women.

The latest figures, revealed in a parliamentary written answer, come as ministers were urged to "get a grip of the problem", which has led some of the poorest households to build up hefty debts.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has said it was "progressing an enhanced notification strategy" to alert carers.

Going even £1 over the earnings limit of £151 per week means carers lose the entire £81.90 benefit, which must be repaid in full.

MPs had warned back in 2019 that a new approach to pursuing debts for overpayments was needed and that "bullying" carers was no way to recognise the invaluable contribution they made to society.

Unpaid carers are estimated to save the UK £160bn a year.

A DWP research report, written in 2021 but only published this week, said 3% of their sample of claimants had received an overpayment of carer's allowance.

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The chairman of the Commons Work and Pensions Committee, Sir Stephen Timms, said the government had "allowed" many unpaid carers to build up "unmanageable levels of debt", having known about the issue for years.

Sir Stephen said: "The DWP must now move without delay to get a grip of the problem and ensure carers are no longer subjected to the distress that such overpayments can cause.

"On top of the problems with overpayments, we have heard how the rate of carer's allowance leaves many struggling to make ends meet.

"The government should make sure that carers who carry out their tasks without reward are made to feel valued by ensuring that the payment properly reflects living costs."

A DWP spokesperson said: "The total amount of carer's allowance overpayments includes historical debts which the department is seeking to recover.

"In comparison, carer's allowance expenditure is forecast to be £4.2bn this year alone.

"We are also progressing an enhanced notification strategy as part of our ongoing commitment to customer engagement, which will help ensure customers fulfil their obligations to inform DWP when changes in their circumstances have occurred, building on existing communications."