DWP Process Failure

How many times do you have to tell the Government something?

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Recently, my mother died, so it fell to me to inform a number of organisations, including the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

I knew that I would also need statements from them of any benefits that had been over-paid, as these would become a debt of her estate, something you need to list when seeking probate.

Encounter One

The registrar told me about a new government service “Tell Us Once”, it seemed someone had (at last) had a good idea. I phoned them that evening, and they were polite and efficient in taking all the details.

I explained that I wanted a written statement of any overpaid benefits, and they suggested that if I wanted to move things along, I should speak to the DWP Bereavement Service – another “good idea” which Pensions Minister Steve Webb is quoted as saying will “cut all unnecessary red tape”.

The Bereavement Service were also polite and helpful, and they said a letter showing what benefits had been overpaid would be sent within a week.

Encounter Two

Of course, a week later, no letter, so I phoned them again. They apologised and said the letter would be out within a week.

This time a letter arrived, but it only mentioned two of the three benefits that I knew my mother had been receiving. The letter instructed me to call them back with any questions, and said that “later” i would get a letter from the Debt Management department telling me how to repay.

Encounter Three

I phoned back, only to be told that the team only dealt with “new” deaths, so I would need to speak to the main DWP contact centre.

I phoned them, to be told that they only dealt with State Pension and Pension Credit and that Attendance Allowance was an entirely different part of the DWP, on a different number.

So I phoned the new number, listened to yet another IVR telling me this was the number for Attendance Allowance, selected the option for “Talk to us about a death” and got routed ….. to the original Bereavement Service.

They helpfully told me to ring the same number but “choose option 3”, which I did, and spoke to someone who could tell me the exact amount of the overpayment, but who could not produce a letter for me, as that was “the job of the Debt Management department”. They did tell me the number to phone, and told me the matter was referred by them to the Debt Management department on the 5th of January (this conversation was on the 19th).

So I made the 5th successive call to the DWP, to speak to the Debt Management department. They were very polite, but could not find any trace of the information on their computer. I told them that it had been referred to them on the 5th, so surely there must be a record of that? Oh no – that was “far too soon” for it to have been put onto their system.

They offered to email the team that “put things on the computer” (presumably by copying from another computer). I asked how long I should leave it before chasing again, to be told a week would be sensible to allow before it might be on their system

And after that, how long to get what I wanted, a simple letter showing how much overpayment had been made? About another month apparently.

This way, madness lies

This whole process has been (of course) irritating and frustrating, but also symptomatic of terrible waste.

Hard to tell from the outside of course, but this feels like over-specialisation, and a system drowning in failure demand

Has anyone else had similar experiences?

More interestingly, has anyone had any experience on the inside who is prepared to comment?

I wonder what John Seddon would make of this?