Breaking: Johnny Timpson resigns from Prime Minister’s Dementia Friendly Communities Champion Group over alleged DWP failings

Yesterday, The Guardian reported that a 92-year-old with dementia was told by the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) to repay £7k in disability allowance – over a third of her life savings – after failing to notify it about a change in her circumstances five years ago.

Related topics:  DWP,  vulnerability
Tabitha Lambie | Editor, Protection Reporter
18th April 2024
Johnny Timpson Scottish Widows
"I have today resigned from the Prime Minister’s Dementia Friendly Communities Champion Group as I don’t support this DWP stance."
- Johnny Timpson OBE

Rose Chitseko said her mother, 92, was navigating the early stages of dementia at the time, which prevented her from knowing she needed to inform the Department for Work & Pensions (DWP) of her change in circumstances.

“It wasn’t realistic for her to notify the DWP […] She’d had Parkinson’s for seven years. We were setting up power of attorney because she was already losing her ability to manage affairs,” Rose told The Guardian.

However, the DWP maintains that it should have been informed in 2019 - when Rose started receiving £64.60 a week in carer’s allowance to look after her mother - that she was no longer eligible for the severe disability premium part of the pensions credit she received.

In 2022, the DWP wrote to Rose’s mother saying she’d been overpaid more than £8k in pension credit and would have to pay it back. This was appealed with assistance from the Harlow Advice Centre, asking the government to use discretion in writing off the debt because her mother “wasn’t in a fit state to notify them and didn’t realise she had to notify them.”

This led to a slight reduction to £7,135.08 which covers the period when the carers’ allowance was received, rather than when it was applied for. This was the only concession.

“It’s just so outrageous, really, that they choose to persecute a frail, sick old woman for something that she was not capable of managing,” said Rose. “When the super-rich get away with millions, it’s the injustice of it, the unfairness of it. It’s just really upsetting and frustrating.”

In a statement released to The Guardian, the DWP said it’s “reviewing this case as a matter of urgency” and has suspended repayments. “When recovering overpayments, we carefully balance our duty to protect the public purse while helping individuals manage their repayments – with strong safeguards in place,” it confirmed.

Today, Johnny Timpson OBE announced his resignation from the Prime Minister’s Dementia Friendly Communities Champion Group as he doesn’t support this DWP stance. Johnny said, “If there was ever a case for DWP applying its own policy and importantly, taking learning from the vulnerable customer and protection from harm policy and practice in UK regulated sectors, particularly in relation to people with disabilities and unpaid carers, then it’s this.”

“The approach matters little if not followed,” he explained while citing the DWP’s ‘Approach to Vulnerability’. This states that a vulnerable individual is identified as “having complex needs and/or requires additional support to enable them to access DWP benefits and use our services.” This approach should ensure targeted additional support is given to help vulnerable individuals attempting to access benefits and use its services.

In response to this resignation, Andrew Gething, Managing Director at MorganAsh, has said: “We fully support this principled decision by our Chairman. While the government is all too aware of the fact that vulnerable people are regularly receiving an inferior service and far worse outcomes than the resilient, its departments aren’t doing enough to support vulnerable people and minimise potential harm.”

“If Johnny feels the government is not doing enough, then it’s right that he resigns.”

Andrew explained that expectations are incredibly high for firms across key sectors to do better for vulnerable customers. “Consumer Duty is the clearest example of this [...] especially as the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) continues its review of how firms approach vulnerability.” To have any hope of shifting the dial and balancing outcomes for vulnerable people, Andrew believes “these cultural and systemic changes have to be embodied at the very top.”

Aaron Dryden, Carer Experience Lead at Yurtle, said “We back Johnny Timpson’s stance. This is a scenario that carers experience all too often, where the creaking legacy infrastructure on which our welfare system is built fails users.”

“We know that it’s possible to build systems that empower users instead of endangering them in this way,” he said; “Our fundamental principle is that our platform genuinely makes life easier – that's something the DWP would ideally share.”

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