DWP seizes devastated woman’s £16,000 inheritance because she worked at supermarket while caring for mum

4 April 2024, 12:11 | Updated: 4 April 2024, 12:15

A woman's inheritance was seized after being informed she had been overpaid her carer's allowance.
A woman's inheritance was seized after being informed she had been overpaid her carer's allowance. Picture: Alamy

By Jenny Medlicott

The Government has faced criticism after seizing a woman’s £16,000 inheritance because she was overpaid her carer’s allowance while looking after her mum.

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Vivienne Groom, 59, was prosecuted for failing to declare her minimum wage job at the Co-op while also caring for her mum over five years.

Ms Groom said she was told by a social worker she did not have to declare the income to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

However, after the DWP discovered she had a job at the store in Tarvin, near Chester, she was ordered to pay back £16,800.

Initially, Ms Groom agreed to a £30-a-month payment plan with the department to give back the money paid to her between 2014 and 2019.

But when the government discovered she was due to inherit the £16,000 sum following the death of her mum, it decided to seize it to claim back “taxpayers’ money”.

Ms Groom said she was devastated following the incident, saying she was only following “that lady’s rules”.

She told the BBC: “I followed that lady's rules and I looked after my mum.

"I mean, if people look after their parents they should be paid more money so they don't have to go to work as well.

"I had to go to work. We had bills to pay."

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Ms Groom was also charged with benefit fraud offences over the incident, as this was the only way for the DWP to seize the sum.

Without legal representation, the 59-year-old pleaded guilty to the charge and was sentenced to a community order with unpaid work requirements.

She later returned to court after the DWP initiated proceedings to confiscate the inheritance under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA).

The order was granted on Wednesday, despite the fact a different judge had previously said he was “truly unimpressed” with the DWP’s handling of the case.

Recorder of Chester, judge Steven Everett, said at a previous hearing that he understood she was just “doing the best you could for your mother”.

The DWP has since faced criticism over the incident, as one DWP employee suggested the overpayments should have never happened in the first place as they branded the error "appalling'.

Benefit staff receive automatic alerts from HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if a carer is being paid more than they are entitled to claim.

The anonymous employee said: “DWP should be protecting these people from getting into trouble with their benefits but instead they're persecuting them and treating them like hardened criminals using the Proceeds of Crime Act against them. It's appalling.”

The department has been criticised in the past for “bullying and harassing” recipients of the carer’s allowance.

About 44% of those who care for others more than 35 hours a week are “living in poverty” according to Labour MP Margaret Greenwood.

This is then only worsened when they are hit with a “large bill” after they discover they had unknowingly been overpaid by the department.

Last year, the DWP said it was pursuing 145,567 instances of overpayments of Carers Allowance.

A spokesperson for the DWP said: "We are committed to fairness in the welfare system while protecting the public purse.

"Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers' money when this has not occurred."

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