A father who was plunged into £5,000 worth of debt because he couldn’t afford to live off Universal Credit has been ordered to repay over £5,000 back to the the Government.
Gary Blake, who was made redundant in July, applied for Universal Credit to allow him to support his five-year-old son and pay his rent.
Before he was laid off Gary earned close to £1,700 per month working with an agency firm attached to Nissan car makers.
Gary says the Department of Work and Pensions have now sent a letter claiming he has to repay £5,149 in benefits, due to missing ID and paperwork.
However, reports suggest the move is part of a wider investigation into Universal Credit payouts during the pandemic.
32-year-old Gary is one of the thousands of people being told to submit photo ID and more evidence of their Covid claims, according to Chronicle Live.
He told the Mirror Online: “When Covid happened, I went onto Universal Credit.
“I applied and they said I was entitled to £370 to 400 a month. That included housing costs. They later found the initial amount had been miscalculated and increased it to £510 a month.”
Gary, from Newcastle, continued to claim the support until spring this year when work picked up again.
He now works in a flower warehouse and does odd jobs to help pay his rent and has since moved in with his brother.
“But out of the blue in June, I got a letter saying I owed £5,149,” he said.
“I rang up and they said I’d missed a meeting which I had not.”
Gary says the DWP told him he’d missed a face-to-face appointment at his local Jobcentre. A letter seen by The Mirror explained that a repayment order had been placed on his account because of missing ID.
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It said that he now has to repay £5,149 back in benefits but even if he submits the missing forms, the charge may not be wiped.
Gary is now taking the case to the tribunal and says it’s caused him severe stress.
“We’re all struggling,” he said.
“I had a good job and money and was never on benefits until I suddenly had nothing and had to borrow to pay for my son and food. I am already £5,000 in debt because Universal Credit wasn’t enough to live on.”
The DWP denied that Gary was asked to attend a face-to-face meeting.
That’s despite the DWP this week confirming that some claimants have been called in for assessments due to overpayments in recent months.
It said that it had sent the overpayment bill because the claimant had not submitted photo ID and tenancy documents.
The DWP said that because it had not received his ID, the government was unable to verify whether his Universal Credit claim was legitimate. It could not say if the charge would be wiped if Gary submitted the documents now.
Gary is one of the thousands of people being chased for further identification as part of a crackdown on fraud during the pandemic.
Under measures being implemented, people that received help last year are being asked to submit photos of their ID, pictures of their street, and photos of them with a local newspaper to verify their whereabouts.
The DWP estimates that it has overpaid the public by £8.4million in total in the past year.
A DWP spokesperson said: “Mr Blake did not provide verification for this Universal Credit claim, despite repeated requests to do so online or in person, and as such we are seeking repayment of this claim.
“If claimants have been paid money that they are not entitled to, then it is right that we seek to correct this on behalf of the taxpayer, whilst also offering support to ensure that any repayments are affordable.”