‘It feels like contempt’: DWP asks 85-year-old dementia patient to repay £13k | Benefits

Eighty-five-year-old Sia Kasparis was in her hospital bed in the living area of her modest northern London apartment when there came a knock at the door.

The grandmother-of-five has been bedridden for the past two years, due to a collapsed vertebra and numerous other medical conditions, including vascular dementia, heart failure, and kidney disease.

She depends on constant care from her son Andrew Kasparis, 66, who resides with her and has been her full-time caregiver since December 2019.

That is when Andrew began receiving roughly £50 a week from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to care for her, referred to as the carer’s component of universal credit.

At this juncture, the guidelines indicate, Kasparis should have informed the DWP that her son was collecting this minor weekly sum as it rendered her ineligible for the severe disability premium of pension credit she had been obtaining.

However, she did not do this – and now the DWP is obliging her to return nearly £13,000 in overpayments it permitted to accumulate for nearly four years. “It was a shock, a total shock,” stated Andrew, a market analyst.

Andrew Kasparis mentions his mother would have found it challenging to communicate with the DWP even if she had known. Photograph: Martin Godwin/The Guardian

Her situation is not isolated: last month the Guardian reported how a 93-year-old woman with advanced Parkinson’s and dementia had been commanded to repay over £7,000 after she did not notify the DWP of a change in her situation – which the DWP would have automatically detected in any case – when she was in the early stages of dementia.

Ministers last week issued an unusual apology and decided to return the £7,000 to the mother of Rose Chitseko, whose case was spotlighted as part of the Guardian’s extensive investigation into carer’s allowance.

Activists express disbelief that the DWP expects vulnerable, disabled, and gravely ill individuals to formally inform it when someone claims carer’s allowance to care for them – information the department already possesses.

Andrew comments his mother, who speaks limited English, had no knowledge of this requirement – and that it would have been “practically impossible” for her to contact the DWP because of her serious health conditions, about which the department was aware.

“Dementia or not, she would not have known she had to do this and she wouldn’t have been able to do it anyway,” he remarked.

On 14 March, the DWP dispatched two officers to Kasparis’s ground-level apartment in Islington, north London, to personally deliver the demand to repay £12,919.29.

Andrew noted the two “hefty” officers informed him they were merely there to ensure his mother received the repayment notice – “like bailiffs” – and they could not provide any answers about it.

“This is how they treat vulnerable individuals,” he commented. “They knew they were visiting an 85-year-old woman with dementia. I just felt it was quite intimidating.”

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