Harlow Advice Centre fights case of 92-year-old woman over £7,000 bill from government

News / Sun 21st Apr 2024 at 09:47am

THE daughter of a 92-year-old woman with advanced Parkinson’s and dementia has slammed the “outrageous” decision to repay more than £7,000 to the DWP over an error five years ago.

Rose Chitseko told The Guardian her mother, who turns 93 in April, has been ordered to pay more than a third of her life savings – after she failed to notify it about a change in her circumstances when she was in the early stages of dementia.

In 2019, Ms Chitseko began receiving £64.60 a week in carer’s allowance to look after her 88-year-old mother when she became unable to care for herself.

The Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) rules state the grandmother-of-four should have informed them at this point that she was no longer eligible for the severe disability premium part of the pensions credit she received. But because of her illness, she didn’t.

Ms Chitseko, a former adult social care worker, said it wasn’t “realistic” of her to notify the DWP.

“She’d had Parkinson’s for seven years. We were setting up power of attorney because she was already losing her grip on her ability to manage her affairs.”

In 2022, the DWP contacted Ms Chitseko’s mother – who had deteriorated further – to say that she had been overpaid more than £8,000 in pensions credit and would have to pay it back.

With the help of the Harlow Advice Centre, Ms Chitseko appealed against the penalty and asked the government to use its discretion to write off the debt as her mother “wasn’t in a fit state to notify them and didn’t realise she had to notify them”.

The final bill was reduced slightly to £7,135.08 to cover the period when carer’s allowance was being received, rather than when it was applied for, but that was the DWP’s only concession.

“It just so outrageous, really, that they choose to persecute a frail, sick old woman for what to them is a relatively small amount – for something that she was not capable of managing,” said Chitseko. 

“When the super-rich get away with millions, it’s the injustice of it, the unfairness of it. It’s just really upsetting and frustrating”.

Ms Chitseko’s mother, a former laboratory technician, is paying off the DWP penalty from her £20,000 life savings and in £600 chunks from her monthly pension.

Ms Chitseko said she could not bring herself to tell her mother what the DWP had ordered.

“I felt she couldn’t deal with it,” she said. 

“For her, £7,000 is a huge sum. She’s from the wartime generation, where £100 is a lot.“If she knew that this amount of her life savings was being asked for … From her point of view, she would feel as if she was the guilty party. It would be extremely upsetting.”

After being contacted by the Guardian, the DWP said it was “reviewing this case as a matter of urgency” and had suspended repayments. 

It added: “When recovering overpayments, we carefully balance our duty to protect the public purse with helping individuals manage their repayments – with strong safeguards in place.”

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8 Comments for Harlow Advice Centre fights case of 92-year-old woman over £7,000 bill from government:

2024-04-21 12:29:21

Tax tax tax, the most disgusting department of government. No matter who you are or what you are facing the tax man gets it's share or else. Sickening. Remember when colonists used to revolt or riot because of a 2% tax increase? Nowadays they increase it 10% and everyone bends over backwards for them, "yes sir, please rob me of my money."

Guy Flegman
2024-04-21 15:51:17

I travelled to Thailand once.i was chatting to a local who was complaining about having to pay 4% tax on his earnings. I told him how much tax we pay in the UK. He responded with a straight face “ I did not know the UK was a communist country”. I kid you not

2024-04-21 17:48:00

So who pays it then?

2024-04-21 18:10:25

Someone with Parkinson's on a low income qualifies for additional benefit payments which would increase as she needed more help? Why wasn't Ms Chitseko paid this benefit once she was diagnosed? Seems she was badly let down by a system that's badly run and has no common sense.

David Forman
2024-04-21 23:29:16

The wonderful Harlow Advice Centre which had its council funding shamefully withdrawn and a winding-up order sought in the courts by the last Labour council administration in 2013 when HAC was known as Harlow Welfare Rights & Advice (HWRA). This latest news story shows the tremendous value of the people working at Harlow Advice Centre, many of whom worked for the former organisation of HWRA.

2024-04-22 07:14:01

Great. More issues for this lady. Worked, lived during war, yet now with dementia, low, benefits, turmoil of not knowing what benefits she should claim, what shouldn't be paid. Who gave her the money. Should they not be punished. Government departments just just take, take. Gave out £84 millions recently by fraud. This lady lived in UK. Wheres her rights.

2024-04-22 07:47:50

Guy Flegman - we have a socialist country for far to long the red and blue socialists love the big state. Funny thing is there is money for everything wars, dodgy pandemics, over seas aid to countries with space programmes. But no money to help the people of the actual country. It is only going to get worse as the wests empire collapses on its lies, wars and dodgy economic policies

2024-04-22 21:12:38

HWRA were an amazing group of ppl who went above and beyond when it came to helping the ppl of Harlow. Ppl who were desperately in need of help and advice and had no where else to turn to. HWRA were in the old iconic building near the market square. They were on a ridiculously low peppercorn lease along ,They had other fundings sources but Labour was determined to force them to close their doors. Some of the staff continued with determination to carry on helping ppl, finding other small premises just so they could continue help the ppl of Harlow. Their dedication and their commitment is commendable and appreciated. Thank you

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