Disabled woman to take DWP to court over ‘immoral’ automatic benefit deductions

Helen Timson says third party deductions scheme can leave many without enough money to buy food

A disabled woman is to challenge the Department for Work and Pensions in court over what she calls its “immoral” policy of allowing landlords and utilities companies to automatically make deductions from monthly benefits payments without the claimant’s consent.

Helen Timson, 50, of Leicester said the third party deductions scheme, which allows up to 25% of people’s monthly means-tested benefits to be diverted at source to pay off arrears, was unlawful and could leave many people without enough money to buy food and pay rent.

At least 200,000 UK households face deductions from their benefits as a result of water, gas and electricity firms arranging with the DWP to have customers’ arrears paid automatically – and there are fears that rising energy prices will lead to more families becoming subjected to the scheme.

Under current practice, the DWP does not seek consent from the claimant for these deductions if they amount to less than a threshold of 25%. Nor does it conduct means tests, or attempt to agree realistic payment plans with creditors.

Timson said she had been subjected to benefit deductions on multiple occasions, all without her consent and against her wishes. On two occasions deductions were taken for non-existent debts, and on another occasion water payments were taken from her benefit and credited to someone else’s account. She said the DWP has consistently refused to stop the deductions, telling her that only the utility companies could do so.

As a result of the deductions she was pushed into near destitution and unable to pay her rent. On one occasion she had to cancel an appointment for an NHS cancer scan because she did not have enough money to pay for a taxi.

“Paying arrears should not leave benefits claimants destitute and unable to pay for basic necessities,” said Timson, who is currently in receipt of disability unemployment benefits. “There must be a viable way for third parties to arrange a realistic repayment schedule with the debtor’s consent, rather than allowing utilities firms and landlords to help themselves to a quarter of people’s benefits – including for errors where no money is owed.

She said: “It is immoral and indefensible that utilities firms plunge people even further into poverty, leaving them without enough money for rent or food, while earning interest on money paid to them in error.”

The case is expected to be heard in the next few months.

A DWP spokesperson said: “Safeguards are in place to ensure deductions are manageable for customers and they are encouraged to contact DWP if they believe a deduction from their benefit should not be made.”

• This article was amended on 21 December 2021 to correct the details of the deductions that Helen Timson said had been made without her agreement.


Patrick Butler Social policy editor

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Benefit changes leave disabled people facing poverty, charities warn
Hundreds of thousands of disabled and ill claimants left out of UK coronavirus measures

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

30, Mar, 2020 @4:26 PM

Article image
DWP accused of offering disabled people 'take it or leave it' benefits
Lower value ‘deals’ allegedly offered to vulnerable people appealing against decisions

Frances Ryan

02, Mar, 2020 @1:00 PM

Article image
Disabled and ill benefit claimants overcharged due to DWP error
Botched transfer had knock-on effect on councils’ financial assessments

Aaron Walawalkar

15, Feb, 2020 @5:16 PM

David Cameron accused of bogus accounting over plans to slash incapacity benefit
Employment minister Jim Knight says move to cut £25 a week from 500,000 claimants will penalise the sick

Patrick Wintour and Andrew Sparrow

05, Oct, 2009 @9:58 AM

Article image
DWP criticised for ‘incredible secrecy’ over deaths of benefit claimants
Commons work and pensions committee to question ministers following case of Errol Graham and others

Patrick Butler Social policy editor

01, Mar, 2020 @4:03 PM

Article image
Disabled people's benefit system needs reform, says minister
Work and pensions minister Steve Webb accepts reform is necessary for Atos-approved employment support allowance

Daniel Boffey

17, Sep, 2011 @8:29 PM

Article image
Disabled people failed by labyrinthine benefits system | Letters
Letters: The Department for Work and Pensions is bent on causing distress to all categories of disabled people


06, Mar, 2017 @6:46 PM

Article image
Disabled man takes government to court over benefit test

Atos 'acted unlawfully' by not taping interview of ex-social worker found fit to work despite him leaving job due to brain surgery

Randeep Ramesh, social affairs editor

13, Dec, 2012 @9:28 PM

Article image
'I’m angry': voter confronts Theresa May over disability benefit cuts
PM’s walkabout in Oxfordshire disrupted by Kathy Mohan who tells May she cannot live on payments of £100 a month

Rowena Mason Deputy political editor

15, May, 2017 @6:12 PM

Article image
Keir Starmer: universal credit cut is an attack on the poorest
Labour leader says Boris Johnson’s decision to remove £20 uplift comes at ‘worst possible time’

Ben Quinn

08, Oct, 2021 @8:17 AM