DWP acts to avoid claimant payouts

Iain Duncan Smith's Department for Work and Pensions is considering legislation to protect it from potentially expensive legal action by welfare claimants who had money docked for refusing work placements, it has emerged.

The move follows a court ruling last month that schemes requiring claimants to do unpaid work experience or lose benefits were unlawful, because of the way the regulations were framed.%VIRTUAL-SkimlinksPromo%
Mr Duncan Smith insisted at the time that he had "no intention" of repaying benefits to anyone who lost out, and he has launched an appeal to the Supreme Court against the ruling.

New regulations were laid on the day of the court ruling to ensure the DWP can continue using the sanction of loss of benefits to ensure claimants take part in schemes.

But the department confirmed it was considering its options in the case of defeat at the Supreme Court. It is believed defeat could prompt action from tens of thousands of claimants who have had their benefits docked, seeking millions of pounds in repayments.

A DWP spokesman said: "The Court of Appeal made clear we can require people to take part in some of our schemes to help them back to work, and to remove their benefit if they don't.

"That's why we are looking at options to protect hard-working taxpayers and make sure we won't be paying back money to people who didn't do enough to look for work."

The spokesman confirmed that legislation is among the options under consideration.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Liam Byrne said: "Bungling DWP ministers have turned the Work Programme into a West Coast Main Line-style fiasco. Hundreds of thousands of sanctions might now be illegal because Iain Duncan Smith messed up the regulations and now the taxpayer might be on the hook for over £100 million.

"It simply beggars belief that this Government is now so incompetent it can't even organise a simple work experience scheme. We'll be demanding ministers come to Parliament urgently to explain themselves."

10 consumer rights you should know
See Gallery
DWP acts to avoid claimant payouts

The law states that any goods you buy from a UK retailer should be of satisfactory quality, as described, fit for purpose and last a reasonable amount of time.

This applies even if you buy items in a sale or with a discount voucher. You may have to insist on these rights being respected, though.

Useful phrases to use when you want to show you mean business include, "according to the Sale of Goods Act 1979" and, if it's a service, "according to the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982".

Some shops will allow you to exchange goods without a receipt, but they can refuse to should they wish.

If the goods are faulty, however, another proof of purchase such as a bank statement should work just as well.

If you attempt to return goods within four weeks of the purchase, your chances of getting a full refund are much higher as you can argue that you have not "accepted" them.

After this point, you can only really expect an exchange, repair or part-refund.

The updated Consumer Credit Act states that card companies are jointly and severally liable for credit card purchases of between £100 and £60,260 (whether or not you paid just a deposit or the whole amount on your card).

Anyone spending between these amounts on their credit card is therefore protected if the retailer or service provider goes bust, their online shopping never arrives or the items in question are faulty or not as described.

Start by writing to the agency asking it to either remove or change the entry that you think is wrong. It will investigate the matter and find out whether you have been the victim of ID theft or a bank's mistake.

Within 28 days from receipt of your letter the agency should tell you how the bank has responded. If the bank agrees to change the entry, they will authorise the agency to update their records. They should also send updates to any other credit reference agencies they use.

You can also contact your lender directly to query a mistake. If the lender agrees to the discrepancy, ask them to confirm this in writing on their letterhead and send a copy to the agency, asking them to update your file.

The FOS settles disputes between financial companies such as banks and consumers.

If a financial organisation rejects a complaint you make about its services, you can therefore escalate that complaint to the FOS - as long as you have given the company in question at least eight weeks to respond.

The FOS will then investigate the case, and could force the company to offer you compensation should it see fit.

Bailiffs are allowed to take some of your belongings to sell on to cover certain debts, including unpaid Council Tax and parking fines.

They can, for example, take so-called luxury items such as TVs or games consoles. However, they cannot take essentials such as fridges or clothes.

What's more, they can only generally enter your home to take your stuff if you leave a door or window open or invite them in.

You are therefore within your rights to refuse them access and to ask for related documents such as proof of their identity. If they try to force their way in, you can also call the police to stop them.

Private sector debt collectors do not have the same powers as bailiffs, whatever they tell you.

They cannot, for example, enter your home and take your possessions in lieu of payment.

In fact, they can only write, phone, or visit your home to talk to you about paying back the debt. As with bailiffs, you can also call the police if you feel physically threatened.

Thanks to the Distance Selling Regulations, you actually have more rights buying online or by phone than on the High Street.

You can, for example, send most goods back within a week, for a full refund (including outward delivery costs), even if there's no fault.

You will usually need to pay for the return delivery, though. The seller must then refund you within 30 days.

We enter into contracts all the time, whether it be to join a gym, switch energy supplier or take out a loan.

In most cases, once you've signed a contract, you are legally bound by it. In some situations, however, you have the right to cancel it within a certain timeframe.

Credit agreements, for example, can be cancelled within 14 days. And online retailers must tell you about your cancellation rights for any contract made up to stand up legally.


More stories

Read Full Story