A cruel trick left Janet Millward without a penny, when her disability benefits were cut off overnight. Someone, claiming to be her son, rang the Department of Work and Pensions, and told them she had died. Instead of asking for proof, the employee immediately listed her as deceased, leaving her financially cut off.
The Daily Mirror reported that after the call, 50-year-old Millward, from Wythenshawe in Manchester, found her housing benefit and Disability Living Allowance had been stopped. The tax office even wrote to her address with advice on how to settle her estate.
The DWP had not requested a copy of her death certificate to prove she had died. It didn't even check the identity of the caller - who said he was her son. Any check into her background would have revealed she had no children.
Millward said it took two weeks to correct the records and restore her benefits. The DWP has apologised, but this isn't the first time this has happened.
Back in 2012 Eddie Potts, a 66-year-old Hartlepool man, also found his Disability Living Allowance had been stopped - along with his pension - after someone pretending to be his son rang and told the DWP that he had died. Potts didn't have a son either.
The government is keen to stop benefits payments as soon as possible after someone has died. Historically it has paid around £70 million a year in benefits to people between when they pass away and when their records are updated - so they are keen to stop payments quickly.
The government has also been taking steps to streamline the system, so that you only need to make one call to the DWP bereavement service, or the Tell Us Once phone number, and it will take all the information it needs in order to cancel all your benefits.
Unfortunately, the downside of a streamlined system is that it's only as good as the people operating it, and once it is streamlined, a single error can have far-reaching consequences. In both of these instances, the changes were made as a result of human error, and the DWP has apologised and run an internal investigation into what went wrong.
Unfortunately an apology doesn't go far in feeding you and paying the bills when your income has been cut off.
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