Hackney Community Law Centre helps save single mother from homelessness after DWP wrongly accuses her of £60,000 fraud
PUBLISHED: 11:04 21 February 2020 | UPDATED: 11:04 21 February 2020
A single mother and her children were saved from homelessness after Hackney Community Law Centre helped overturn a £60,000 fraud bill from the Department for Work and Pensions.
The authorities monitored the woman's home with CCTV for two weeks following allegations she was living with a partner. After seeing a man leaving with children in the morning, the DWP decided she was, and having failed to disclose the relationship, had been overpaid benefits for 10 years.
Her rent stopped being paid through housing benefit and her landlord started possession proceedings, meanwhile she was getting letters asking for the £60,000.
But the man, the woman's ex, was at the property to take the children to school. He still had letters being sent to the address, which was also used as evidence of fraud.
With the help of Hackney Law Centre, the woman won her tribunal after trainee solicitor Marcin Brajta argued the evidence was weak.
He told the Gazette: "The DWP at the hearing admitted the CCTV evidence was not admissible. Essentially, a log prepared by the fraud officer who conducted the recording showed they had arrived outside our client's residence long before the cameras were turned on.
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"The DWP could not explain why there was such a gap. The client's former partner might have easily arrived before the cameras were turned on.
"Based on a few letters and the CCTV footage they concluded the client was overpaid for over 10 years. This resulted in one of the largest overpayments I have ever seen."
Marcin said overpayment decisions for failure to disclose a partner were "often wrong".
He added: "Relationships are complicated and just because letters are sent to a former partner's address or there is a regular contact with children does not necessarily mean a claimant and the father of their children are in a relationship. Benefit agencies often rely on circumstantial evidence and make exaggerated assumptions without fully considering alternative explanations.
"Even though it might appear obvious now the DWP made a mistake, it took nearly three years to resolve this case.
"Both the DWP and Hackney Council sent officers to argue the overpayments were recoverable. There was a witness and hundreds of pages of evidence. Without legal representation, our client would have been unable to successfully argue her case.
"As benefit appeals in tribunals are not generally covered by legal aid, it is very hard to find anyone to act as a representative. Because of our involvement, our client avoided losing her home, all of her benefits were reinstated and she can now focus on other things."
The DWP has been contacted for comment.