Wirral MP condemns government’s handling of Carer’s Allowance

Margaret Greenwood MP is urging people in receipt of Carer’s Allowance to check that they are still eligible to receive the benefit.

The Wirral West MP’s warning comes at a time when many people are falling foul of government rules which mean there is a “cliff edge” for the amount that unpaid carers are allowed to earn from employment and still receive Carer’s Allowance.

As things stand, someone can only receive Carer’s Allowance if they earn £151 a week or less after tax, national insurance and expenses. If they go over that amount, then they lose their entire benefit entitlement.

This is causing serious problems for carers who unwittingly go over the limit and so become ineligible to continue claiming the benefit, leading to overpayments and carers having to pay money back later on.

A series of parliamentary questions tabled by Margaret Greenwood MP revealed that the government is currently seeking to recover a total of 156,300 Carer’s Allowance overpayments – over 10,000 more than when Ms Greenwood asked for the information at roughly the same point last year. The vast majority of cases where the government is seeking to recover money – more than 58% of cases – are for amounts up to £1,000.

Margaret Greenwood MP described it as “shameful” that the government has failed to get a grip on this situation over the last year, leaving increasing numbers of carers to face mounting debts.

She also highlighted reports in the press that the government has used “threatening and cruel” tactics to try and recover money from vulnerable carers who have mistakenly breached the £151 earnings allowance.

The Wirral West MP used her speech in a parliamentary debate to call for an end to the “cliff edge”, and for an increase in the amount of Carer’s Allowance that eligible claimants receive.

Currently, unpaid carers can get £81.90 a week if they care for someone for at least 35 hours a week and that person receives certain benefits.

Ms Greenwood said in the debate that “it is unsurprising that there are calls right across the country for a significant increase in the money that carers receive.”

She also highlighted calls from the Carer Poverty Coalition, which was set up by the charity Carers UK and is made up of over 130 national and local organisations, for a full review into Carer’s Allowance which should include, among other things:

  • The provision of an additional payment for carers of State Pension Age
  • Exploring different payment levels for people providing 20, 35, 50+ hours of care, to take account of the intensity of caring
  • Scrapping the 21-hour study rule which prevents anyone who is studying for more than that amount of time a week from claiming carer’s allowance

Speaking after the debate, Margaret Greenwood MP said, “The DWP is pursuing thousands of people for overpaid Carer’s Allowance; many of these will be people who are simply unaware that they are no longer eligible because their pay has gone up. This is especially the case at the moment, as the National Living Wage went up at the beginning of this month.

“We could have a situation where many carers have now gone over the £151 earnings limit, but are unaware. It is really important that people check how much they are earning to make sure that they do not get caught out.

“If someone no longer qualifies, they need to tell the DWP straight away, otherwise they may be receiving money they are not entitled to and so find themselves facing a large debt later on.

“Unpaid carers provide vital support to those they care for, whether that is a family member, friend or neighbour.

“Many unpaid carers have faced enormous pressure on their personal finances as a result of the cost of living crisis, and many have been forced to cut back on essentials such as food and heating. Some have suffered extremely severe financial hardship. According to the Carers UK website, 44% of working-age adults who are providing care for 35 or more hours a week are living in poverty.

“Clearly, the level of Carer’s Allowance is not enough and needs to be increased. I have called on the government to do this, and to remove the earnings cliff edge which is acting as a barrier to people having a part-time job while also being a full-time carer. Many experts are asking for this, and I hope that the government will listen. In the meantime, it is important that unpaid carers who are also in paid employment do not fall foul of the current system.

“Unpaid carers need to be recognised for the vitally important and selfless work that they do. They need to be supported and not punished for looking after their loved ones.”

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