Universal Credit claimants, and people in receipt of other benefits, are being warned they could face a £50 fine. People may even be taken to court if they fail to tell the DWP about important changes in their circumstances.
The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has offered a list of changes that Universal Credit claimants must report to the authorities or risk facing consequences.
Since October 2012, the DWP has had the power to impose a fine on benefit claimants who have received an overpayment due to not informing authorities of a change in circumstances.
The ‘civil penalty’ is £50 and will be added to the amount of the overpayment and will be recovered by the same method.
Claimants need to report changes to their circumstances so they keep getting the right amount each month.
Any changes need to be reported as soon as they happen. Any delay may mean one will receive too much money and will have to make a repayment.
Changes are circumstances that may affect one’s benefits, such as a name change, moving house, or having a new addition to the family.
If the Government believes someone has deliberately not told them of a change in circumstances to receive an overpayment, they could be prosecuted for benefit fraud.
Turn2Us, a national charity providing help for people who struggle financially, explained what could cause a £50 civil penalty.
They explained that for a civil penalty to apply, the overpayment must:
- have happened after 1 October 2012, and
- be an amount of £65.01 or more, and
- be recoverable.
The overpayment of benefit also must have been caused by a person:
- making an incorrect statement, or
- negligently giving incorrect information, and
- that person not taking ‘reasonable steps’ to correct the error.
A civil penalty will not be applied if the DWP decides to take action under benefit fraud provisions.
The DWP listed changes in circumstances to be aware of:
- finding or finishing a job
- having a child
- moving in with your partner
- starting to care for a child or disabled person
- changing your mobile number or email address
- moving to a new address
- changing your bank details
- your rent going up or down
- changes to your health condition
- becoming too ill to work or meet your work coach
- changes to your earnings (only if you’re self-employed)
- changes to your savings, investments and how much money you have
- changes to your immigration status, if you’re not a British citizen
People can report a change of circumstances by signing in to their Universal Credit account.
The charity explained how people can challenge the £50 fine.
They said: “If you agree that you have been overpaid but you don’t think you should have been given a civil penalty you can challenge the decision to give you a civil penalty.
“You will first have to request Mandatory Reconsideration of the decision. You have one month to request Mandatory Reconsideration. You should explain why you think you should not have been given a civil penalty.
“If the DWP do not change their decision, you can appeal to an Independent Tribunal. You only have one month from the date of the DWP’s decision on your request for Mandatory Reconsideration to request an appeal.”