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‘I was hounded for months over benefits’

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A MOTHER of two was hounded for four months over unpaid debts by the Government – despite having said she was earning too much.

Vicky Phillips repeatedly informed the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) she was no longer entitled to weekly hand-outs – only to be told she owed it £671.27 in employment support allowance (ESA) payments.

The 30-year-old said: “I was phoning them four times a day, four days a week to explain my situation.

“I shouldn’t be chasing them up because they can’t pass a letter to each other.”

After Mrs Phillips, who lives in Knoll Close, Hove, started working Sunday shifts at Tesco in Vale Road in July, she realised her weekly pay packet was £11 over the maximum wage ESA claimants can earn while remaining eligible for state support.

Her Sunday shifts fall within the premium pay bracket, meaning her weekly income now exceeded the £120 threshold.

She said she immediately contacted the DWP to say she was earning too much to carry on drawing the benefit but had to wait until September for a letter acknowledging the change in her circumstances.

Then five weeks later a letter demanding urgent repayment landed on her doormat.

“They put people through such stressful situations through no fault of their own,” said Mrs Phillips.

“I did everything in my power to make sure they had all the information they needed.”

She said the DWP has verbally apologised and promised to consider wiping her debts.

“I’m not holding my breath though,” she said.

“Before the apology, I’d had one phone call back since November. It’s ridiculous.”

When the DWP threatened to order Tesco to deduct money from her earnings, Mrs Phillips told them she would ring The Argus if it went ahead.

But, after she was warned in the same ultimatum letter that debt collection agency CCSCollect would pursue her for the money, she was told by the Citizens Advice Bureau to go to ground.

“I don’t answer the door any more,” she said.

“I haven’t even got a laptop and I doubt they’d want to take my surf board.”

On her current wage, Mrs Phillips has to make do with £50 a week to spend on electricity, food and travel.

She said: “There are so many people who don’t know their rights and have no idea someone’s racking up debt in their name. The DWP think they can get away with sending out a generic letter making out it’s my fault but I’m going to fight this.”

The DWP said Mrs Phillips did not tell it about the change in her earnings in time. A spokesman said: “People are informed when they make a benefit claim to report any change in their circumstances straight away, as failure to do so can result in an overpayment. Anyone who disagrees with an overpayment decision can appeal.”


Source: The Argus