Employment and Support Allowance: Underpayments

Part of the debate – in the House of Commons at 3:41 pm on 25th February 2019.

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Photo of Sarah Newton Sarah Newton The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions 3:41 pm, 25th February 2019

I thank the hon. Lady for her questions. Let me make it absolutely clear that, each and every time I have addressed the House, I have thoroughly apologised on behalf of the Department for these administrative errors. This should never have happened, and I am very happy to apologise again today. Although I wish this had never happened, we are working at pace to make sure that people receive the payments to which they are entitled.

The hon. Lady is right to say that we have reviewed the cases of people who have subsequently deceased, but she is not right about the quantities of people who would have actually benefited from this exercise. We are only part of the way through, and we do not know, as yet, the total number of deceased people who, having reviewed their case, would have been eligible for additional payments. Where we review the cases of deceased people—of course, we are reviewing all of the cases—we make the payments to their family. We are working carefully and urgently to find the families so that we can make the payments.

On the additional resources that we have made available to complete this exercise, I am sure the whole House would agree it is vital that we get on and sort this out as swiftly as possible so that people can benefit from the additional sums of ESA and other disability premiums to which they might be entitled. I am pleased that we have been able to find the additional resources to enable us to do this. I made the commitment to the House that we would complete the exercise this year, and that is what we are going to do.

The hon. Lady rightly asks what lessons we are learning, especially as we are now planning for the managed migration of people from ESA on to UC. The key lesson we have learned is to make sure that the claimant is involved in that decision. For all the right reasons I am sure, it was decided to migrate people from incapacity benefit on to ESA without contacting them—just passporting them over. I have heard Opposition Members make that call to me as we approach the managed migration, and that is the key mistake that was made. The opportunity was missed to check in with people claiming the benefit to make sure that their circumstances had not changed and that there were not additional payments to which they might be entitled, and that was the cause of this particular problem. I am determined that those lessons are learned so that, as we do the managed migration in a measured and careful way, the mistake is not made again.