Northern Ireland

Universal Credit: Couple overpaid £12,000 describe 'hell on earth'

Universal credit

A couple who were overpaid almost £12,000 in Universal Credit have described the ordeal of being asked for repayment as "hell on earth".

Speaking to BBC Radio Ulster's On Your Behalf, Eugene, not his real name, said he and his wife were hit with the debt after a computer glitch.

He told the programme staff at the Jobs and Benefits Office admitted the miscalculation was its fault.

The Department for Communities confirmed it was aware of the case.

No chance to appeal

Eugene told the programme as a retired civil servant, he was already in receipt of his pension, and had only signed up to Universal Credit to allow his wife to claim benefits she was entitled to - as it had to be claimed as a household.

While making his claim, he said he was vigilant about listing "every nut and bolt" of the household income.

While receiving the benefit, they were paid about £600 to £700 a month - before receiving a letter in October telling them Eugene's pension had not been accounted for.

The couple were asked to repay £11,922.26 and told there was no way to appeal.

'We were suicidal'

"I'll be honest with you, we were suicidal, that's how badly this impacted on us," he said.

Image copyright PA

"Two months of sheer hell we have been through.

"My wife has not come out of the house for two months. She feels that the world will know that we're going to be bankrupt - because that's what we were going to be."

Eugene said he has recently been contacted by the Department for Communities to tell him the debt could be written off if he could show it had impacted his health.

"Writing off that £12,000 isn't good enough in my book," he said.

"This is a benefit which has been brought in, in a haphazard, ham-fisted way.

"If I have had this then there are a lot of other people who have had something similar."

Discretionary waiver

Also speaking on the programme, Rachel Jeffers from the Law Centre highlighted the discretionary waiver, a measure for having social security debt written off.

Since Universal Credit was introduced in 2017, figures gathered by the advice centre show there have been 3,546 cases of overpayment - with payments totalling £1.7m.

Out of these, the discretionary waiver has been used three times.

"Nobody really does know [about it]," said Ms Jeffers.

"We would say that if anybody is to contact Universal Credit with the debt, they should be told. They should be advised that there is another option here for you."

In a statement, the Department for Communities confirmed it was aware of the circumstances of the claim and had been in contact with Eugene.

It added it could not discuss specific details of the case and urged anyone with a social security debt to contact its debt management team.

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