59. But for the maladministration we identify, DWP would have investigated and appropriately remedied the impact of the maladministration. We have therefore considered that impact.
60. As far as financial hardship is concerned, Ms U was about £80 a week worse off than she should have been, roughly halving her ESA income, for five years. That will self-evidently have had a substantial impact on her quality of life. For example, her representative told us Ms U could not afford to heat her property or buy appropriate food to keep healthy. As well, she lost the use of the money for five years. Taken together, that amounts, in our view, to a significant injustice.
61. DWP has said in its comments on our provisional views document that despite its error, Ms U’s benefit did in fact increase after migration to ESA. As well, DWP said she continued to receive disability living allowance, housing and council tax benefits that increased annually. That does not change our view. As far as the comparison is concerned, Ms U’s representative confirmed she was about £6 a week better off. However the key point is that Ms U was about £80 a week worse off than she should have been post migration and, as DWP says, ‘had an income lower than the government says someone in her circumstances needs to live on for a sustained period’. As to the other benefits Ms U received, they are intended for specific purposes. We do not think Ms U should have had to use those benefits to offset DWP’s error. As well, annual uprating also increased the income-related ESA Ms U was missing out on.
62. In respect of passported benefits, Ms U’s representative said she did not receive free prescriptions for her several health problems, or about £700 in Warm Home Discounts, meaning she was not able to heat her property.
63. In response to our provisional views DWP was concerned we had not addressed other bodies’ responsibility for passported benefits. We note that in 2018 DWP told the Committee it was engaging with ‘authorities who are responsible for passported benefits, to see if a way forward can be found’, but there is no outcome to that. We accept the position on passported benefits is not straightforward because different organisations (including DWP) administer them and the fact that different entitlement rules apply. But in Ms U’s case it is clear that but for DWP’s maladministration she would have been eligible for passported benefits.
64. Ms U’s representative told us that her inability to heat her home and to eat healthily meant there was an impact on her already poor mental and physical health. He added that she was not able to have urgent dental treatment. We find that the stresses and impacts of the hardships described in paragraph 62 and by her representative in paragraphs 27 and 28 are likely to have exacerbated Ms U’s poor mental and physical health. We note DWP’s comment that we have not provided medical evidence to support the assertion that its failings caused or contributed to her deteriorating health. However we have no reason to dispute Ms U’s representative’s evidence and on balance we consider that as a result of DWP’s maladministration, and given the nature and severity of her medical conditions, Ms U is likely to have suffered from poorer health than she otherwise would have.
65. DWP also said, in response to our provisional views, that we should take into account the fact DWP provided Ms U (and others) with information relating to income-related benefits. DWP sent us a copy of the notice it says it would likely have sent Ms U in 2012, saying it included information on income-related ESA and how to claim. The notice is five pages long and tells the recipient their benefit is changing to ESA. It says DWP has ‘ticked the boxes that apply to you’. We do not know whether DWP ticked a box to say Ms U was or might be entitled to income-related ESA. But that seems unlikely given DWP had decided not to pay her it. The Committee said DWP ‘accepted that its letters did not make clear that people could be substantially better off if they were also entitled to ESA on income grounds’ and ‘Without this information, there is no reason why claimants would necessarily have known why it was important to contact the Department about their benefits’. We are not persuaded the example notice is evidence Ms U had the information she would have required to make a claim for income-related ESA in 2012.
66. We find that DWP’s maladministration had a very significant impact on Ms U’s living standards and quality of life. DWP’s actions have caused her an unremedied injustice.