Mum incorrectly chased for £4,000 debt after having Universal Credit slashed

Blackpool mum incorrectly chased for £4,000 debt after having Universal Credit slashed. Debbie Roberts, 40, has been unable to make ends meet after her benefits were cut by hundreds of pounds six months into her studies to be a paramedic. 

Debbie Roberts was told she owes £4,000 – she didn’t

A Blackpool mum has said she feels ‘punished’ for training as a paramedic after having her universal credit slashed by £700 a month. Debbie Roberts, from Bispham, said she has been left in £4,000 of debt and is struggling to look after her daughter after the Department for Work and Pensions miscalculated her benefits.

The 40-year-old mum-of-three started a course at Edge Hill University in February last year, leaving her long-term job as a barber. Just before she embarked upon her degree, which is taught out of a campus in Manchester, Debbie approached the DWP for a claim – taking with her proof of a student loan.

Initially everything ran smoothly and Debbie was receiving around £800 a month which covered her bills, rent, food and essentials for her and her 16-year-old daughter on top of her student loan which helped to cover her travel expenses from Blackpool to Manchester each day and study materials.

But within six months the universal credits payment had been dramatically cut to £100 a month and then further to £70 a month. When Debbie asked what had happened to her income she was told she had been overpaid and owed the government £4,000.

“It wasn’t my fault,” said Debbie. “Nothing had changed since I made the claim. I tried arguing but they said that I have to pay it back. “They are taking my student loan into account as income which I have to pay back after I start earning.

“My rent is £100 a week and my travel expenses are £100 a week. That’s my student loan gone straight away. “How am I supposed to live on £70 a month? I have a teenage daughter who is in full-time education. I can’t pay bills or get food or support her.”

Debbie, who often works 12-hour shifts on placement with the ambulance service, says that she would be better off if she quit her course and was unemployed. “This country is crying out for paramedics,” she said. “I am trying to better myself and I feel like I am being punished.

“I can’t go and get a part-time job because I’m in university from Monday to Friday. I leave the house at quarter to seven in the morning and don’t get back until after six. “I can’t even get a weekend job because I need to study for my course and when I am on shift I follow their shift patterns which include weekends and nights.

“My daughter is at college and she’s gone to get a part-time seasonal job just to provide for herself because I can’t do it. “It’s not like I’m just sitting on my butt. I wanted to train to be a paramedic 15 years ago but my children were  too young and I couldn’t get childcare to cover the hours.”

Around a decade ago, Debbie broke her back and has struggled with chronic pain ever since. She has also been diagnosed with ME and says that the stress of knowing she has to pay back thousands of pounds coupled with her course is taking its toll on her.

“I’m pushing myself so hard to try and live a normal life and do good things,” she said. “I’m still at uni trying, not playing the system which I could be doing. “I just take painkillers and carry on.”

After being contacted by LancsLive, the DWP admitted that it had miscalculated Debbie’s debt and that she only owed around £400 not £4,000. It has said that arrangements will be made to see Debbie and recalculate how much she is owed to make sure she is receiving the correct payments.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We have called Ms Roberts to apologise for incorrectly calculating her Universal Credit and to discuss future payments.”

It is not currently known how long this issue will take to resolve or what the difference in payments will be once recalculated.

A meeting is being arranged for Debbie to discuss this matter further.

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Fraud and Error in the Benefit System

The Department for Work and Pensions pays welfare benefits to around 20 million people. ‘Fraud and Error in the Benefit System’ estimates how much money the
department incorrectly pays, either by paying people too much benefit – overpayments, or by not paying enough benefit – underpayments.

We calculate this as a percentage of the total amount of benefit we pay – expenditure. Overpayments and underpayments happen as a consequence of fraud; claimant error; and official error (processing errors or delays by DWP, a Local Authority, or Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs).

The Department can recover overpayments from people so we can describe a figure which ‘nets off’ recoveries from overpayments – net loss. The estimates in this publication relate to reviews carried out October 2017 – September 2018
(except Personal Independence Payment reviews, which were carried out August 2017 – July 2018).

The rates found are then applied to the expenditure for 2018/19 to
estimate the monetary amount of fraud and error. Comparisons are made from 2005/06 onwards due to a prior change in methodology (see Background and Methodology)

continue reading either click link here or download pdf below

Fraud and Error in the Benefit System

Grenfell Tower inquiry: Firms pulled the trigger on victims

Grenfell Tower

Firms involved in the refurbishment of Grenfell Tower are as much to blame for the victims’ deaths as if they had “pulled the trigger” of a gun, an inquiry into the tragedy has heard. The insulation supplier saw the block as a “flagship” for its product and promoted it despite knowing it should have been recalled, one barrister said. The fire in June 2017 killed 72 people.

The companies deny responsibility and want a guarantee that the evidence they give will not be used in prosecutions.

Sam Stein QC, representing the victims, bereaved and survivors at a hearing on Thursday, said companies “killed” when they “promoted their unsuitable dangerous products in the pursuit of money”.

Another barrister representing victims said that Celotex and Arconic, the manufacturers of the insulation and cladding respectively, “exploited” a lack of knowledge about building regulations in efforts to promote their products.

Stephanie Barwise QC said that both companies knew their products were “highly flammable” and showed “contempt” for safety.

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Ms Barwise also said:

  • The Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (KCTMO), which oversaw the refurbishment, did not question whether reducing costs would compromise safety, and used a fire risk assessor who it had been warned was “prone to make unjustified statements”
  • In an internal email in 2014, an Arconic sales manager said she was “working on” projects including “Grenfell Towers” – despite the firm previous saying that it wasn’t necessarily aware where cladding would be installed
  • Fire safety consultancy Exova made a “seriously misleading” statement when it said in reports that the proposed changes “will have no effect on the building in relation to external fire spread” – which it added would be confirmed by analysis in a future report. Exova knew about proposals for new insulation and cladding by November 2013, but the risk assessment was not updated
  • Building contractor Rydon failed to obtain advice from Exova on external fire spread
  • The government was holding a “ticking time bomb” by not rewriting its fire safety guidance despite knowing as far back as 2000 it was inadequate.

The inquiry also heard that residents had asked the Royal Borough of Kensington and Chelsea (RBKC) three months before the fire for an assessment of the tower block by an independent health and safety inspector.

An RBKC official wrote to the then-chief executive of the KCTMO that they were “not minded to agree to this request” and that the KCTMO’s work had been “more than sufficient”.

The inquiry’s first phase found the cladding was the “principal” reason for the rapid and “profoundly shocking” spread of the fire at the 25-storey building in June 2017.

Its second phase, which began on Monday, is looking at how the building came to be covered in flammable cladding during its refurbishment between 2012 and 2016.

The inquiry heard that – with the “sole exception” of the RBKC, which accepted that the refurbishment should not have been signed off – all organisations involved in the work had denied responsibility.

The following day, emails disclosed to the inquiry suggested that companies knew a planned cladding system would fail in the event of a fire.

On Wednesday, firms asked for a guarantee that anything they say in the hearings will not be used as part of future prosecutions.

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Man deemed insufficient for free care. He died weighing 45kg

The ‘haunting’ image of a man whose medical needs were deemed insufficient for free care. He died weighing 45kg. His widow has one question – ‘how ill do you have to be?’ Barry and his wife’s savings and pension pot were hit hard when the NHS refused to provide full social care funding. 

Barry Balderstone (Image: CheshireLive)

Ulcerative colitis, Parkinson’s disease, diabetes, double incontinence, chronic kidney disease, unable to move or feed himself. This man’s medical needs were deemed insufficient for him to qualify for free, full-time social care.

The day after that decision was made – upheld at appeal following two applications – 75-year-old Barry Balderstone died. “How ill do you have to be to qualify?,” widow Marilyn said.

The NHS won’t comment on the tragic case. Barry, from Bollington, passed away from advanced Parkinson’s. He weighed just 45kg.

He lived at Mount Hall Care Home and qualified for £150 a week under the continuing healthcare scheme, CheshireLive reports. That covered a small percentage of the costs of his care.

The couple’s savings and pension pot were hit hard.

East Cheshire Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG) said Barry was not eligible for full funding, which would have paid for all of his care needs. Marilyn said the CCG twice turned down his bid for full funding. The second time, Marilyn appealed, with a hearing held in July 2019.

She said she was told the appeal had failed on October 6 – the day the above picture of Barry was taken. He sadly died on October 7. She said: “That picture haunts me, but I took it as I thought they needed to know how ill he was, he looked so terrible.

“How ill do you have to be to qualify?

“The assessments are incredibly difficult, you have to score ‘high’ or ‘severe’, but you realise you are not going to get it. “It’s very stressful and you come out of it absolutely wiped out. But I thought I had to do something. “It seemed so unfair and he was getting worse and worse.

“There needs to be a more sympathetic attitude and more help for the family. If it [speaking out] helps anyone else in the same position then it will have been worth it.”

Barry, a former civil engineer, went into a nursing home three years ago, initially Highfield House, on Park Lane, before switching to Mount Hall in April 2019. A bid for full funding was turned down in 2017 and then again at a review in October 2018, which Marilyn appealed.

In the meantime the couple, who married in 1993, saw a ‘substantial part’ of their savings and pension disappear to foot the bill. Marilyn says fighting the decision cost another £3,500 and that the assessment is designed to score people low so they do not qualify for full funding.

She added the family of patients need to be more involved in the decision process. Karen Smith, associate director for NHS Continuing Healthcare Services, said: “We are sorry to learn of the patient’s death and we extend our thoughts to his family at this difficult time.

“However, we do not comment on the particulars of individual cases.

“The criteria for determining eligibility for Continuing Healthcare funding are set nationally by NHS England and applied faithfully by the Cheshire CCGs.

“Should the patient’s family wish to appeal the funding decision, the CCG will support them through the process.”

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Now Food Banks are on the verge of collapse!

 A Food bank for Plymouth’s poorest are ‘on brink of collapse’. Devon and Cornwall Food Action is in dire straits financially despite the fact more people than ever need its support. 

A vital lifeline for hard-up hungry families in Plymouth is on the brink of collapse – despite the fact more people than ever need its help. Devon and Cornwall Food Action works around the clock feeding those with hardly a penny to their name out of a warehouse in Roborough.

The food bank is manned by a dedicated army of volunteers who drive out to schools, churches, community halls – anywhere where precious meal parcels are needed. But the registered charity – which sends out tonnes of grub to more than 100 families a week – has roughly eight weeks’ worth of cash left before it folds, Plymouth Live can reveal.

Officials say they desperately need a minimum of £40,000 in the short-term to cover the rent, bills, insurance and fuel – but it’s not looking good with only £400 being collected since December.

And time is fast running out. Alan Dunne, who heads up the operation, says its demise would have a devastating impact on the poorest pockets of Plymouth.

Vast areas of Whitleigh, Honicknowle, Ernesettle and pockets of Manadon all heavily rely on donations. “The need is so great that we are running out of resources to keep us afloat,” Alan, 52, said. “It’s a desperate situation.

“All I want to be able to ensure is the people who need food, get food. It’s very simple. Kids need to eat. “Unfortunately, when I am doing that, making sure that happens, I am not out rubbing shoulders with corporate giants and chairs across the board, securing that funding.

“I come from a family that grew up in poverty – I come from a place where we didn’t have carpets. I lived in a two up, two down. I know what poverty is like. “With the kids and families that we do feed – as long as I have the will and the way, I will continue to do that for them.”

DWP minister thinks foodbanks are a ‘perfect’ solution

London-born Alan moved to Plymouth in search of a new life after battling alcohol addiction. “I came down here with personal issues, and this city gave me my life back,” he said. “I don’t mind sharing that stuff.

“I have some consequences as a result of what I went through. I had three different careers at one time. It took its toll. So I’m very grateful.” Alan admitted the blow comes as more families in full-time work come forward in desperate need of meals – because they simply don’t earn enough to eat.

But getting the food bank’s profile out there has proved challenging – because people are ashamed about turning to it for support. “Whichever way you look at it, there is a huge need,” Alan said. “Working poverty is becoming a big thing. We help people a lot of people that go to work, that don’t take enough home in order to be able to eat.

“Then there’s those who have ran out of work, maybe they’re self-employed. They’ve got kids and families who need to be fed. But the biggest barrier is pride.”

There are now more foodbanks in the UK than McDonalds

Food bank volunteer and former Army private Victor Boumonte has spent years giving up his time to help those in desperate need. He had spine surgery last week – yet there he was again helping to load up vans full of fresh produce when Plymouth Live dropped by to chat.

“Poverty doesn’t have a holiday,” Victor said. He’s also the chair of Frontline Veterans Support in Plymouth. “I’ve been working with Alan right from the start. Back then we were using my freezer at home to store the food.

“Veterans and their families would come to us – now we alongside the veterans deliver to the community. “We deliver crisis boxes, to vulnerable people in the city. We reach out to those with mental health, social anxiety and isolation issues. “It gives the veterans self-worth – knowing that they are doing something for the community. That’s what we’re built for.”

Cops have also showered Alan and his team with support and made the case for them to stay. Plympton beat officer, PC Di Kervin and PC Jan Cooper link up vulnerable homes with the food bank to ensure they don’t go hungry.

“I don’t know what people some would do without these donations,” PC Cooper said.

To support Devon and Cornwall Food Action, call Alan on 01752 651800.

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How [Un]Safe are your medical records?

 Telecoms group given access to NHS medical records without patient consent

A photo of traditional medical records

Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust have been handing over medical data to Telefonica without obtaining the consent of patients.

According to documents published last month under freedom of information laws, Telefonica, the Spanish group that trades as O2 in the UK, was given free access to a vast amount of medical records from Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust.

The data included five years of anonymised records belonging to both former and current patients. Patients’ names and addresses were removed from the database. The document reports that 25,000 people in Birmingham and Solihull experience a mental health crisis every year, thus it can be assumed that the data shared could have been on tens of thousands of patients.

The Times reported that the telecom giant had been given access to the trove of records with the aim of developing an algorithm aimed at predicting when mental health crises might occur.

This project is currently at its early stages, however an early pilot of the algorithm “saw clinicians provided with a list of 25 patients every two weeks who were predicted to go into crisis over the next 28 days,” explained The Times.

The next stage will involve plans to incorporate phone data, most from likely an app, to further improve the algorithm, to which the NHS trust explained that patients will have the ability to opt-out.

In a statement, the Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation trust said that it was “proud to be at the forefront of promising research”, and that it hopes the algorithm will help those at risk.

However, concerns have been raised about why consent was not obtained during the first stages of the project.

Eva Blum-Dumontet from Privacy International said: “yet another example of a private company getting its hands on people’s data using the pretext of doing research to improve a public service.”

“People suffering from mental health are often in vulnerable situations and the very least they should be expecting from the NHS is to be protected and have their fundamental rights respected, not having to pay the price of healthcare with their privacy.”

Sam Smith from MedConfidential commented: “They are proposing to creep on patients for profit, flagging up ‘problems’ to already overstretched mental health services. Telefonica only cares about creating an algorithm it can sell. The NHS cares about the mental health of its patients. There is a discrepancy between those things.”

Telefonica has stated that the healthcare data does not leave the NHS servers and is not used for any other purposes other than the pilot.

Dr Hilary Grant, executive medical director at Birmingham and Solihull Mental Health NHS Foundation Trust, said: “There is no reason for our patients to be concerned in any way about how their information is being used. Our number one priority remains to protect our current patients and their privacy.”

Steve Wright, CEO, Privacy Culture Ltd told PrivSec: “In my experience, a lot of organisations are still struggling, 20 months after GDPR came into force, to identify the appropriate lawful basis for processing personal  data (Article 6). The trust may have a legitimate purpose for scientific or research purposes, both of which carry legal data protection and burdens, but are legitimate in the interest of public health (e.g. prevention).

“This does raise the question of Transparency (Article 12), because of the principle of being informed, freely given consent and the protection of an individuals rights are all valid. The Trust should (and possibly did) consult with a law firm and have hopefully established a Data Ethics Committee, where such issues can be debated and decisions captured.”

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Austerity ending? Not on your Nelly

Sajid Javid abandons pledge to end austerity with savage cuts plan. The Chancellor has ordered ministers to identify savage cuts to departmental budgets – despite promising before the election that “no department will be cut next year” 

Sajid Javid has been accused of abandoning his pre-election pledge to end austerity after he ordered ministers to identify savage cuts for departmental budgets. The Chancellor promised just months ago that no department would have to shrink their budgets in 2020. But today he wrote to cabinet ministers, asking them to draw up cuts of up to 5% of their spending plans.

They’ve been told to go through their budgets “line by line” and be ready to justify any spending plans and projects they want to keep. In the note, Mr Javid wrote: “We have been elected with a clear fiscal mandate to keep control of day to day spending.

“This means there will need to be savings made across government to free up money to invest in our priorities.” But in Mr Javid’s spending round speech, just three months before the election, the Chancellor declared he had “turned the page on austerity.”

Mr Javid said: “No department will be cut next year. Every single department has had its budget for day to day spending increased at least in line with inflation. “That’s what I mean by the end of austerity.”

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Labour’s Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said: “We were promised by Johnson and Javid that austerity had ended and the cuts in public services were over. “They clearly aren’t on this evidence. Another Johnson lie exposed.”

In September, Mr McDonnell accused Mr Javid of “grubby electioneering” with the spending round speech, and “pretending to end austerity when they do nothing of the sort”.

According to the Sun, ministers must deliver ideas for ways to cut their budgets to the Treasury by March 4.

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Hateful Tory MP claims many rough sleepers choose to be on the streets

Here’s a thought, if according to Holloway most people are junkies and drunks [that don’t want help] then what’s his excuse for

  1. Homeless children
  2. Precarious Employment
  3. Universal Credit
  4. Bedroom Tax
  5. Domestic Violence
  6. No Social housing built or affordable rents
  7. Mental Illness
  8. Housing Benefit errors
  9. No Fault Evictions

Typical Tory hatred of the poor – enough said! Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Tory backbencher Adam Holloway claimed he knew of a man who had a flat, but chose to sleep rough to fund his alcohol addiction. 

Tory MP Adam Holloway
Tory MP Adam Holloway

A Tory MP has claimed many rough sleepers “choose to be on the streets”. Backbencher Adam Holloway claimed many people would rather be on the streets than in a shelter because it allows them to fund drug and alcohol addiction.

During a Commons debate on the issue, Tory backbencher Adam Holloway said homelessness should be treated as a health issue – allowing drugs and alcohol to be used in shelters and improving mental health care.

The Gravesham MP spent time on the streets in 1991 – while filming a documentary, No Fixed Abode for ITV. He did so again in 2018 to learn more about the problems faced by those sleeping rough.

He told MPs about meeting an alcoholic on the streets in London called Andy, who claimed he had a flat to go home to if he wanted to. Holloway said: “Andy was drinking, I don’t know, probably 30 cans of beer a day. “But Andy wasn’t actually homeless. “Andy had a flat, he in fact showed me the keys to his flat. “But Andy was living at Westminster for two reasons. “He was lonely in his flat in North London and how on earth is an alcoholic going to generate enough money to buy beer if not from begging on the streets?

“I didn’t meet him, but a friend of mine reported that a guy who had been a heroin addict in Covent Garden for many years who had his leg cut off eventually. “And this guy absolutely maintains, and this is my experience too, that if the public were not so generous and didn’t enable people to buy the heroin and buy the alcohol then he would have got off the streets an awful, awful lot earlier.

Image

If the Secretary of State was to be kicked out of his house and find himself in the unfortunate circumstance of living on the street, of course mental health issues, depression, drug dependency and alcoholism might then result, but the Government have cut homelessness support by £1 billion a year over the last decade—this is nothing new—and cuts have consequences. I think, for example, of the 726 people—an increase of 50%—who lost their lives last year source

“The reality is that many people choose to be on the streets.” This caused Labour MPs to shout out in disagreement. Mr Holloway continued: “Before you stand up in outrage, there’s a reason for this. “If you’re like Andy and you’re addicted to a drug, you have a problem, you need money.

“You do not get money from begging if you are sleeping on the floor in one of the Government’s No Second Night Out hostels. “You don’t get money to buy heroin if you’re sitting in your council flat, you get it by being out on the streets.”

He added: “We are not going to deal with rough sleeping unless we see it as a health problem. “So we need to be honest about this. “When you give cash to a beggar, not in every case, but in the vast majority of cases, you are buying heroin or you are buying alcohol or you’re buying zombie Spice.

“So we’ve got to stop giving money to beggars. “We’ve got to have wet accommodation for people where they can take drugs and continue to drink.

“We’ve got to have emergency psychiatric assessments.”

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Contra evidence to his vile comments

DWP clawed back £50million in Universal Credit loan repayments in just one month

New claimants for Universal Credit have to wait a minimum of five weeks for their first payment to be processed, forcing many to take out loans form from the Government.
The borrowing, known as Advance Payments, to cover their basic living costs before their first entitlement arrives

Boris Johnson’s government clawed back £50 million one month in loan repayments from some of the poorest households in Britain. The appalling cost of the Department of Work and Pension’s five-week wait for Universal Credit payments have been exposed by a campaigning Scottish MP.

Chris Stephens MP said he has been staggered to discover the government is reclaiming so much money in what he said is a clear sign of a flawed policy.

New claimants for Universal Credit have to wait a minimum of five weeks for their first payment to be processed, forcing many to take out loans form from the Government. The borrowing, known as Advance Payments, to cover their basic living costs before their first entitlement arrives and is then deducted from regular payments.

In response to inquiries by the Glasgow South West MP the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) admitted that in August 2019, the latest period available, deducted £50 million from  Universal Credit claimants to pay back their loans.

Stephens, the SNP MP for Glasgow South West, said: “This is an incredible sum. The figures lay bay that the five-week policy simply isn’t working, it just drives people further into poverty.”

Ant and Dec win NTAs best presenter for 19th year in a row and infuriate losing hosts

He added: “The DWP is removing £50 million from people each month to pay for its own ridiculous policy of making them wait weeks and weeks and weeks for Universal Credit.”

“Unless the DWP moves to a policy where benefits are paid promptly the queues for food banks in Glasgow, and across the country, will continue growing.”

The DWP’s own figures show that in addition to the £50 million a further £44 million is being deducted to repay previous overpayments, errors, arrears, or fines, leaving all too many claimants on the brink of destitution

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Food banks report that the deduction of such eye-watering sums from Universal Credit payments is behind a growing number of referrals for food parcels.

Andrew Forsey of the anti-poverty charity Feeding Britain said: “By sticking with a policy of plunging people into debt, while they are asked to wait at least five weeks for their Universal Credit, the DWP risks adding to the growing need for food banks.”

“The DWP is mercilessly pursuing poorer households for money that has either been paid to them as a result of its own errors, or that they have been forced to borrow to keep a roof over their head. Worse still, it has no idea how many children are being driven deeper into poverty by this policy.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “Nobody needs to wait five weeks to receive a Universal Credit payment as people can get paid urgently if they need it.”

The official highlighted that the figures for August 2019 advance repayments amounted to less than four percent of the £1.3 billion paid out and that the Scottish Government has welfare powers to top-up existing benefits.

The DWP official added: “We changed the system so people can receive even more money in the first two weeks than under the old system and in Scotland, people can choose to be paid twice monthly and have the housing element of their Universal Credit paid directly to their landlords.”

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