Essex Road man left to live off £4 a fortnight by DWP error says ‘sorry’ isn’t good enough

The man had £4 every two weeks to survive on after bills. Picture: Polly Hancock

The man had £4 every two weeks to survive on after bills. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

A child abuse survivor living in Essex Road was forced to live off just £4 a fortnight because of a benefits error that took three years to put right.

The man had £4 every two weeks to survive on after bills. Picture: Polly Hancock

The man had £4 every two weeks to survive on after bills. Picture: Polly Hancock - Credit: Archant

The man, who survived sexual abuse at a children’s home in Southwark, is now in his 50s and living off Essex Road.

He says he became suicidal when the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) took three and a half years to assess him for Employment and Support Allowance – something that should take 13 weeks.

The DWP has since apologised for the “distress” this mistake caused him.

“I was so neglected and so ashamed,” he told the Gazette. “It got to the point where I had no money and went to food banks, but what about hygiene?

“I had to ask people for personal stuff like toilet roll and deodorant.

“My doctor actually gave me some food parcels and a social worker even gave me £20 at Christmas because I was in such an awful situation.”

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The abuse survivor was receiving just £88 every two weeks for most of his time on the ESA assessment stage, meaning he had to budget with £2 a week after paying his rent, utility bills and travel costs.

“Thank God I have good friends,” he said. “And that there are food banks and other services, I don’t know where I’d be otherwise – I was suicidal.”

He claimed he complained incessantly to the DWP that he was struggling to survive over these three years, sending notes from his doctor to evidence the reality he was too ill to work.

The ESA benefit provides financial support for those unable to work. It’s gradually being replaced by Universal Credit, the online-only system combining six working-age benefits into one monthly payment. But the claimant in question is in a group of claimants who have yet to be affected by these changes.

In December he received a back-payment of £5,900 for the ESA payments he’d missed out on. His ESA started up at the same time at the full rate of £230 a month.

He is also the getting the full Personal Independence Payment of £340 a month, although the rent arrears accumulated over these three years means much of this is going toward debts on his flat.

The DWP has also offered a one-off of £75 to apologise for the way he was treated. But he claims such a minimal amount is “a kick in the teeth” after everything he’s been through and, with the support of his Islington South and Finsbury MP Emily Thornberry, he’s appealing for more in damages.

The dispute is now being arbitrated by the Independent Case Examiner (ICE).

“It isn’t about the money,” he said. “It’s the fact that they turn it around and make you feel like it’s your fault. It’s the principle.”

A DWP spokesperson said: “We have apologised for the error and delay in processing this claim, and for any distress it has caused.

“We have given a full backdated payment for all money owed, as well as a consolatory payment in recognition of our mistake. The claimant is now receiving his full ESA payments.”

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