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PIP BLUNDER: Local woman must return more than £1k

HAND IT OVER: Catherine and husband Anthony McLaughlin with the savage repayment demand
HAND IT OVER: Catherine and husband Anthony McLaughlin with the savage repayment demand
By Michael Jackson

A WEST Belfast woman has revealed she must pay back thousands of pounds in benefits after she was mistakenly refused PIP.
56-year-old Beechmount woman Catherine McLaughlin, who suffers from depression and anxiety, was previously in receipt of DLA but was refused the new PIP benefit following an assessment in September 2017.
The fall-out from that decision has now left her deep in debt.
PIP has replaced DLA as part of welfare reform measures introduced by the Tory government.
After she lost out on her disability benefits, the Department for Communities made Welfare Supplementary Payments to Catherine, which were introduced to soften the blow of welfare reform.
However, after Catherine successfully appealed the decision not to grant her PIP, the department has written to her in attempt to reclaim ‘mitigation payments’ totalling £1,173.32. This, she says, will leave her struggling to make ends met.
Following their benefits blunder, the department now plans to take the money from Mrs McLaughlin’s existing benefits, which she depends on to survive.
Speaking to the Andersonstown News, Mrs McLaughlin told how she felt like she had “committed a crime” during her PIP assessment.
“When I went for the PIP assessment I went to Citizens’ Advice to help us out and a girl came along to represent me,” she said.
“She was talking me through it outside because I got myself up to high doh over it.
“When I went in the pressure just got the better of me. I was being asked questions and some of them I found hard to answer. I answered to the best of my knowledge, but I felt as if I had committed a crime and I was in front of a panel of judges.”
Despite winning her appeal, she must now pay back £22.20 per fortnight out of her already meagre benefits. As well as the impact on her mental health, Mrs McLaughlin said she will “struggle” just to make ends meet.
“The only thing we had to live off was ESA, which was only £200 between us,” she said.
“Why are they sending us this letter a year later saying that we have to pay the money back? It came as a complete shock. I rang and explained the circumstances, but I was just told that I have to pay it back by law. I understand that they gave us the money to pull us through, but why did they leave it for a year and let it mount up? At the end of the day the fault lies with them, but we are the ones being penalised. She put me onto a debt management line and I was told if I didn’t agree to pay it then they would start taking it out of my benefits anyway because my money comes from them.
“We’re trying to run a house, we have oil and food to pay for, we don’t have a car but we have buses and taxi fares to pay for too. It puts me under a lot of pressure. I was trying to work out what it’s going to cost me and it’s going to take over a year and a half to pay it. I don’t know how I’m going to afford it. I received a letter a few months ago about going back to work. I can’t start work due to my health issues, and I only have another year left on my ESA – I have to re-appeal that. I don’t know if I’m going to get it back or not, so how am I going to make these payments?”
She added: “I was only starting to relax and feel a bit better lately. I’m on a lot of medication for it. This has put a lot of pressure on me. I was in a complete state over this letter, but there’s nothing I can do – they’re going to take the money anyway.”
A spokesperson for the Department for Communities, said: “Welfare Supplementary Payments(WSP) are available to existing Disability Living Allowance claimants who experiences a loss of benefit following a reassessment to Personal Independence Payment (PIP) however depending on a person’s circumstances they may be entitled to more than one type of WSP arising from loss of DLA.
“Claimants who do not qualify for PIP and subsequently successfully appeal the decision receive Welfare Supplementary Payments equal to the weekly rate of their previous Disability Living Allowance payments. In the event of a successful appeal and in line with the legislation the Department carries out an adjustment on any arrears due to ensure that an overpayment does not occur hence the claimant does not lose out financially.
“However, in some circumstances e.g. where a WSP is paid for loss of a Carers Premium the legislation does not provide for an offset process to allow arrears of Carers Allowance benefit to be adjusted following a successful PIP appeal. Instead all arrears of Carers Allowance must be paid to the carer and recovery of the overpayment of the WSP sought from the person who actually received it however again in these circumstance neither the claimant nor the carer has lost out financially.”

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