‘Lifeline to vulnerable’ - MP calls for extension of benefit deduction freeze

Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney, urged ministers to extend the benefit deductions freeze.

Peter Aldous, Conservative MP for Waveney, urged ministers to extend the benefit deductions freeze. PICTURE: Jamie Honeywood - Credit: Archant

A Suffolk MP has urged ministers to extend a suspension of benefit deductions, dubbed a “lifeline to many vulnerable people” during the coronavirus pandemic.

In April, in response to the Covid-19 outbreak, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) put a three-month pause on the recovery of benefit overpayments.

The scheme meant people who were paid too much universal credit - either by accident or due to an undeclared change in their circumstances - would not have to repay the extra to the government for a period of ninety days.

Under normal circumstances, the overpayment is resolved by the DWP issuing less benefit money to those who owe it back.

But the department resumed these deductions in July.

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And speaking in the House of Commons (HoC), Waveney MP Peter Aldous called on ministers to consider extending the debt recovery suspensions.

Conservative Mr Aldous asked if ministers would “extend the suspension of benefit deductions for recovery of universal credit and legacy benefit overpayments during the Covid-19 outbreak”.

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He said: “Suspensions provided a lifeline to many vulnerable people over the past six months.

“Unfortunately there is at present no reason to believe that we’ll be in a better position in April 2021 than we were in 2020.

“I would urge him to consider extending the suspensions and working with local authorities to put in place fair local support arrangements that operate in conjunction with national welfare systems and will complement the chancellors incentives to get people back to work.”

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But Will Quince, undersecretary of state for work and pensions, told the house there was no current plan to extend the scheme.

“Action to restart deductions commenced on July 6 and should be completed by mid-November,” he said. “We recognise that there will be some people experiencing financial difficulty and anyone unable to afford the rate of recovery proposed is encouraged to contact the department so an affordable rate can be agreed.”

He added: “It is right claimants who owe the department money are able to resume payments to reduce their debt. We continue to apply a flexible approach and endeavour to recover without causing undue financial hardship.

“In May, we’ll be launching the breathing space scheme to help prevent problem debt and help people who fall into that debt.”

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