The Social Action Agency of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales, Caritas Social Action Network (CSAN) is actively supporting a number of amendments to the Welfare Reform Bill as it continues its passage through Parliament. One of the proposed amendments, which aims to protect benefit claimants from being penalised as a result of administration errors, has been tabled by Baroness Hollins and will be discussed in the coming weeks.
As it stands, the Welfare Reform Bill would allow the government to reclaim overpayments in benefits, which have occurred through administrative or computer errors. This would punish claimants and their families for mistakes made in the Department for Work and Pensions or local authorities, and which are not the fault of the benefit claimants. CSAN alongside the Zacchaeus 2000 Trust is trying to maintain current protection against such re-claims, which has been in place in legislation since 1975.
Without overpayment protections, benefit claimants and families could be forced to hand over large amounts of money which have accumulated over time, despite potentially having no prior knowledge of the overpayment. This would hit those who already are struggling to make ends meet whilst living off benefits; threatening basic living costs, housing security, utilities payments and even nutrition.
Helen O’Brien, Chief Executive of CSAN stated that: “the removal of existing safeguards will ultimately mean that each case is based on the discretion of different officials, which provides no guarantee that the decisions will protect the vulnerable.”
On Monday, The Cardinal Hume Centre, which helps many individuals who are benefit recipients, expressed support for the CSAN/Z2K proposed amendment.
Clive Chapman, The Cardinal Hume Centre’s Policy officer argued that: “The government’s emphasis should be on preventing payment errors, not shifting the burden onto claimants by forcing them to pay back unsustainable amounts and risking forcing them further into poverty.”
One client of the Cardinal Hume Centre, a single parent of three who receives benefits and lives in privately rented accommodation said “If they did this to me, I would be really angry – especially if this was their own mistake. I would not pay, this is like stealing. My kids and I would suffer and I would struggle to buy anything apart from food.”
For further information please contact Liam Allmark, Caritas Social Action Network Public Policy and Public Affairs Officer on 020 7901 4846 or firstname.lastname@example.org
CSAN is the social action agency of the Catholic Church in England and Wales, and an umbrella organisation of charities with a Catholic ethos.
P. 020 7901 4846
Zacchaeus 2000 Trust helps people living on benefit or low incomes to access justice when they face claims for debt or fines.
The Cardinal Hume Centre works with homeless young people, badly housed families, refugees, asylum seekers and migrants; and is a member of Caritas Social Action Network.