Woman’s £16K inheritance seized after caring for her unwell mother for five years

A Cheshire woman was left shocked after her £16,000 inheritance from her mother was seized by the DWP after being prosecuted. She was told that failing to declare her Co-op job whilst caring for her mother meant she owed the department £16,800.

Vivienne Groom took a minimum wage job at the Chester Co-Op store whilst caring for her unwell mother, and says she was ‘told by a social worker’ that she did not have to declare her income whilst receiving carers allowance. The DWP told Groom that she had been ‘overpaid’ the benefit and it sought to claim back ‘taxpayers money’. Her bank accounts were unexpectedly frozen, and she was refused a direct debit agreement to pay back the money.

Due to this, Groom says she was unable to afford legal representation at court.

Groom looked after her mother, who had a stroke, whilst working, and continued to check in on her after a formal care arrangement was in place. She alerted the DWP when caring for her mother ‘became too much’, and this was when trained carers were coming to the property to look after her. However, Groom continued to be by her mother’s side until her death in November 2022. Shortly after her death, Groom was called into the job centre and was told she had to pay the £16,800 back in full.

After she was prosecuted, Groom was charged with benefit fraud offences. Without legal representation, Groom plead guilty and was sentenced to a community order with unpaid work requirements.  She was seen back in court under the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), enabling the DWP to request the judge to order the confiscation of Groom’s inheritance.

Her husband, Geoff Groom, spoke to the media, saying his wife had been ‘penalised for looking after her mum’.

Initially, the Co-op worker agreed a payment plan with the DWP, where she would pay them back £30 a month to cover the overpayments, which she received over a span of five years until 2019.

However, when the government discovered she stood to inherit £16,000 following the death of her mother, and decided to seize the money.

Mrs Groom told news outlet the BBC she was devastated by what had happened:

“I followed that lady’s rules and I looked after my mum. I mean, if people look after their parents they should be paid more money so they don’t have to go to work as well. I had to go to work. We had bills to pay.”

She also told Today’s Media: 

“I’d been made redundant from my job and was applying for other work. During that time, I was looking after mum and noticed her face had dropped and she was dribbling – she’d had a stroke. After that she went to hospital and was told she needed care.

“I volunteered to look after her. She was great for many years, and I managed to get a job, a social worker would visit and I told her I had been coming to look after mum before and after work. The social worker assured me she would ring the right people and I didn’t file it on[with the DWP].

“Eventually it got too much and I rang them and said I couldn’t do it anymore. Carers were then coming in, but they weren’t staying for long so I kept going in to see mum and care for her.

“Mum began to get confused and didn’t like me leaving so while I went away my sister would come in and help. Mum passed away two years ago in November. It took it’s toll on me and my husband Geoff but we got through it as a family and I’ve had help from other family members.

“I don’t think I’ve come to terms with mum’s passing.”

Not long after her mother’s death, Groom got a call from the job centre saying she had to go for an interview.

She explained: 

“That’s when I found out about the money they were after. I explained to them what the social worker had said and they told me I should have followed it up. I should have, but working and looking after mum it got pushed to the bottom of the pile.

“Then in May last year a letter came in telling me my bank accounts had been frozen apart from the one I use daily. I rang CPS and they told me there was nothing they could do.

“I told them I had an agreement to pay back the money at the rate of £30 a month which I had been doing. Then I was told they were aware that I ‘had money’ and would need to pay it off. I told them about the money I had got from the sale of my mother’s house and asked if I could keep it and stick to the direct debit agreement. I was told no.

“When I went to court the money was taken. I just feel numb. I know I’ve done wrong but in my eyes the social worker got my money taken. I still work and I just hope that I don’t lose my job when I go back next week as I love what I do.

“I have a good support system of family and friends too. This has shown me that carers should be paid a good wage the small amount of money they get is shocking.”

At the initial hearing, the Recorder of Chester, Justice Steven Everett, said to Groom she was “doing the best you could for your mother”.

The order was granted Wednesday April 3, with a different judge claiming he was “truly unimpressed” with the DWP’s handling of the case.

Staff who are dealing with benefit claims will get automatic alerts from HMRC if a carer’s allowance claimant is earning too much to claim and the department has faced criticism for failing to prevent overpayments and allowing recipients to end up in hot water legally.

A report in the BBC North West Tonight shares one DWP worker’s anonymous statement about the department’s handling of overpayment.

They said:

“From 2014 onwards really they had no excuse for having these overpayments carry on for longer than two or three months if they’re investigating all of the alerts but instead they’re persecuting them and treating them like hardened criminals using the Proceeds of Crime Act against them.”

Five years ago a report from the House of Commons Work and Pensions Committee accused the DWP of “bullying and harassing” those who had been overpaid.

Last year the DWP revealed it was seeking to recover 145,567 overpayments of Carers Allowance.

An extra 26,500 overpayments were added to that total in the last year alone.

A spokesperson for the DWP has said of the issue:

“We are committed to fairness in the welfare system while protecting the public purse.

“Claimants have a responsibility to inform DWP of any changes in their circumstances that could impact their award, and it is right that we recover taxpayers’ money when this has not occurred.”

One Response

  1. The criteria clear and each applicant must familiarise themselves with the criteria before claiming.
    Relying upon someone else’s guidance (even if a Social Worker) is foolish.

    Ask the DWP instead

    Your eligibility
    All of the following must apply:

    you’re 16 or over
    you spend at least 35 hours a week caring for someone
    you’ve been in England, Scotland or Wales for at least 2 of the last 3 years (this does not apply if you’re a refugee or have humanitarian protection status)
    you normally live in England, Scotland or Wales, or you live abroad as a member of the armed forces (you might still be eligible if you’re moving to or already living in an EEA country or Switzerland)
    you’re not in full-time education
    you’re not studying for 21 hours a week or more
    you’re not subject to immigration control
    your earnings are £151 or less a week after tax, National Insurance and expenses

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