Disabled woman wins legal challenge against DWP over automatic benefit deduction | Benefits


A disabled former police officer has won a legal challenge against the Department of Work and Pensions over its policy that allows utility companies to deduct hundreds of pounds per year from individual benefits without their consent.

Helen Timson, 51, from Leicester, He argued that it was illegal and immoral The DWP has enabled water and power companies to withdraw up to 25% of a claimant’s monthly benefit income at source without making any form of check with the claimant. It is understood that hundreds of thousands of claimants are subject to deductions.


Supreme court Judgment that DWP’s work on the scheme was illegal Because officials’ failure to give claimants the opportunity to challenge the companies’ application means they cannot be in a position to decide whether the discount is in the best interests of the claimants.

The judge, Mr. Kavanagh, said the plaintiffs’ lack of opportunity to provide DWP officials with evidence as to whether the discount was on hand, whether the debt was owed, or to discuss the most appropriate alternative payment methods was a “violation of the obligation of equity.”

Thompson has suffered benefit deductions on numerous occasions without her consent. On one occasion, an energy company wrongly charged £81 a month for a year and a half for non-existent debt. When it asked the DWP to stop the deductions, it refused, in violation of its own directives, arguing that it had no authority to do so.

On another occasion, it challenged the benefit deduction made by Southern Water in respect of arrears and continued use. When the discount was eventually removed and replaced with an easier-to-manage standing order arrangement, her debt payments fell by £31 a month.

Far from being in her best interest for the deductions, Thompson, who cannot work due to physical and mental health conditions, said it left her with little control over her finances, and made it difficult to buy enough food, pay rent or afford travel to appointments. the hospital.

She said she was “over the moon” about the ruling, adding: “The fact that the DWP now needs to obtain representation from claimants before making the decision to deduct the money from their best interest is the least they should have done.”

The court heard that utility companies would request third-party discounts by submitting Excel spreadsheets to DWP containing the names of large numbers of customers who were in arrears. Debtors name packages do not contain information on the nature of the debt or the circumstances of the clients.

Although the DWP is required to approve deductions only if they are “in the interests” of the claimant or his family, the court heard that officials green-lighted the deductions without consulting or informing the plaintiff, or making any attempt to assess whether it would be in the plaintiff’s interests.

Thompson’s attorney, Emma Farley of Bindmans LLP, said the DWP must now change the way it manages the scheme to ensure that plaintiffs are informed of utility company discount requests and are able to challenge them.

People claiming old benefits may be subject to third-party deductions. The court heard DWP figures that less than 200,000 discounts were made on water debt in May 2021, and 63,000 on gas and electricity debt in February of this year.

A DWP spokesperson said: “We are studying the ruling carefully and will respond in due course.

“The third-party discount scheme strikes a fair balance between ensuring that undisputed debts are repaid for essential utilities, and helping to protect vulnerable people and their families by protecting them from the potentially dire consequences of failing to pay those debts.”