Thousands of ESA claimants to receive backdated payments after benefits bungle

Thousands of people on sickness benefits are due to receive backdated payments averaging £5,000 after the Government revealed a string of errors in its benefits system.

Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) was introduced in October 2008 for people who have limited capability to work because they are disabled or ill.

However, from March 2011, the Government began reassessing people on incapacity benefits for eligibility for ESA. While there are two main types of ESA – contribution-based or income-related – the Government failed, in some cases, to consider the possibility of whether contribution-based claimants were also entitled to income-related ESA.

The Government said it is currently in the process of reviewing around 570,000 ESA cases that could be affected by mistakes in the reassessment process, with around 180,000 confirmed to be affected. In total, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) said it estimates it will pay out more than £1.5 billion in backdated payments between now and 2019.

Commenting on the announcement, DWP minister Sarah Newton said: “We now have a team of over 400 staff working through these cases, with a further 400 due to join the team through October and November, and will be assigning more staff to review the additional 250,000 cases.

“This will enable us to complete this important activity at pace.”

For claimants with terminal and complex illness, the DWP said it would be ensuring those people are seen to as a matter of priority.

“The Department has prioritised checking the claims of individuals whom we know from our systems to be terminally ill. Thereafter we are working through contacting cases identified as most likely to have been underpaid according to our systems. Some of the cases most likely to be in error are also some of the more complex cases,” it said.