Government knew repayment demands left carers poorer

Elizabeth and Oliver Tait
Elizabeth Tait, who cares for her son Oliver, is among thousands of people who have been made to repay a weekly allowance because her weekly earnings rose above the £151 limit. [Elizabeth Tait]

The Department for Work and Pensions has known since 2021 that overpayment of Carer's Allowance has left some people in financial difficulty.

A report about the experiences of people who receive the benefit - which the government has previously refused to publish - has just been released.

There has been growing controversy over the clawback of overpayments of the £81.90 allowance for people who care for someone for more than 35 hours a week.

The government says there are safeguards in place for people managing repayments.

Anyone who earns more than £151 a week from other work is required to repay all of their Carer's Allowance.

More than 1,000 carers were surveyed for the research, with 60 providing in-depth feedback.

It suggests that 3% had to make repayments after changes in circumstances meant that they received the benefit in error, but the researchers acknowledge that may be an underestimate.

Official statistics show that 1,377,000 people currently claim Carer's Allowance in Great Britain.

An overpayment rate of 3% as recorded by the survey suggests around 41,000 carers may have been wrongly overpaid at some point.

Elizabeth Tait from Surrey looks after her 20-year-old son Oliver who has Down’s syndrome and was made to repay £1,623.

She told BBC Newsnight this week: “I had made a few errors, I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work these out and it just caused me a great deal of upset.

“The Carer's Allowance is almost like a trap. It’s so complicated”.

The overall report paints a picture of what it means to be a carer in the UK:

  • Most are caring for a close relative, with two-in-five caring for a child

  • 52% spent 65 or more hours a week providing care

  • 54% had been caring for between five and 20 years

  • People often don’t claim Carer's Allowance straight away

  • More than half of claimants are on lower incomes (earning £20,799 a year or less)

Conor and Raé Thackray
Conor and Raé Thackray from Cheshire said being made to repay Carer's Allowance was "very intimidating". [BBC]

Conor Thackray from Cheshire cares for his wife Raé who has borderline personality disorder and chronic fatigue syndrome.

He was made to repay around £400.

He told the programme: "It came as a real blow and I felt targeted. I felt I’d done something wrong.

"The letter landed on my door and the worst thoughts go through your head.

"There are threats of prosecution written on the letter. It’s very intimidating."

The charity Carers UK has been campaigning for a change of policy on the allowance.

Its chief executive Helen Walker said: “We are really pleased to see the Department of Work and Pensions’ research on Carer's Allowance finally in the public domain so we can begin to have constructive discussions with decision-makers and officials about the future of carers allowance.

"However, it has taken three years for this research to be published and during this time the benefit has remained unchanged, despite many calls from Carers UK and other stakeholders on the need for a substantial review."

The report says key criteria such as the number of hours of care they needed to provide to continue to qualify for the benefit, and the earnings threshold were not universally understood.

It comes on the day that MPs have sent a letter to the DWP calling for urgent action to tackle the problems created by overpayments.

A DWP spokesman said: “Carers play a vital role and we have increased Carer’s Allowance by almost £1,500 since 2010.

“This research shows only 3% of respondents experienced an overpayment and while the majority said this had no financial impact, we have safeguards in place for people managing repayments while protecting the public purse.”