SDLP councillor Brian Tierney has asked the Department for Communities (DfC) to investigate the extent to which people entitled to employment support payments in the North have been underpaid by the state since the welfare benefit was introduced here ten years ago.
He was speaking after an audit by the cross-channel National Audit Office (NAO) found that since 2011, London’s Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has underpaid 70,000 people who had transferred to ESA from other benefits in Great Britain.
Colr. Tierney wants the authorities here to provide a breakdown of the number of people affected by underpayments in the North.
He said: “The findings of the NAO investigation into ESA underpayments are a damning indictment of the government.
“It has estimated that 70,000 people were underpaid this crucial support allowance over the last seven years.
“The report determines that the average underpayment was £5000 and that approximately 20,000 people were left over £11,000 short over the seven years. That is incredible.
“How many people have been forced further into poverty as a result of this error? How much damage has been done to the health of claimants as a result of the intense pressure of struggling to make ends meet?
“I’m working with our Deputy Leader and Social Justice Spokesperson Nichola Mallon and we’ve written to the Department for Communities Permanent Secretary today asking for a full evaluation of the scale of these errors in Northern Ireland and a timescale for repayment.
“The lives of vulnerable claimants are tough enough without being denied this support they need to get by.
“This Tory welfare system has been bedecked with failure after failure, with the government having to be dragged to correct its errors as a result of High Court rulings and damning independent reports.”