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Nottingham Post
Nottingham Post
Karen Antcliff & Catherine Furze

DWP errors could mean thousands forced to repay benefits

A government error could mean that thousands of benefits claimants may be forced to repay payments which they have incorrectly received. The error is down to a failure to update records.

The mistake stems from an error made by the Home Office. According to reports, EU citizens living in the UK who claimed benefits before Brexit but were refused a citizens status after the UK left the European Union may have to pay the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) money back after the Home Office failed to update its records.

A Government spokesperson said over 5.5 million people have been granted status and this development has no impact on anyone who has been granted status.

Read more: DWP rule change to better help people on Universal Credit working 15 hours or more each week

It was a body set up to monitor citizens' rights following the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the Independent Monitoring Authority (IMA), which spotted the oversight and warned that tens of thousands of people may be affected.

At the heart of the issue is a database update error. Although the Home Office is thought to have written to those refused EU Settled Status, it did not immediately update its eVisas database. Around 141,000 EU citizens who applied for EU Settled status were refused between June 2021 and April 2022, according to PoliticsHome, although the DWP says only a small proportion of that number is likely to be affected and have to repay money.

It appears, says Chronicle Live, that the failure to update the records meant people who had been refused settled status were still categorised as 'pending' and continued to receive things such as benefits and access to public funds to that they were not entitled to.

The status of their application was left as "pending" because it was required by the Brexit withdrawal agreement to protect the rights of people who wanted to immediately appeal the decision, according to The Mirror.

However, thousands of people who did not immediately appeal the refusal and continued to receive benefits until the Home Office updated the statuses to 'Refused' on the eVisa database on January 18.

A DWP spokesperson said: "We are still working through how many people are affected and how much is owed," they said. "Once we know, we will write to the individuals affected and will consider payment arrangements. The total number affected is likely to be a small proportion of the 141,000 people."

The IMA said it was concerned about the impact this could have on those affected and has written to the Home Office to seek clarity on the steps that have already been taken. There remains no confirmation on how many people may have been impacted or how much money is estimated to have been wrongly paid out. However, the Home Office has confirmed to the IMA that this issue only affects individuals who received a refusal decision between June 27 2021 and April 19 2022.

The IMA said: "We are seeking assurance that the EUSS digital system is fit for purpose, maintained and audited to reflect accurate digital statuses, and accurately available on demand for all eligible citizens. We will consider the response of the Home Office to our request for information before deciding on what next steps we may take.”

On the issue of EU citizens having received benefits, a Government spokesperson said: "The online digital status for some EU Settlement Scheme applicants who were refused status has been updated in line with the decision taken on their application, which had already been communicated to the individuals concerned. We are working across Government and with the EU and member states to understand any further implications and to ensure the situation is managed quickly and pragmatically.”


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