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Nearly 5,000 unpaid carers in Northern Ireland are being pursued by Stormont for overpayments of the Carer’s Allowance benefit, according to figures released today (22 May). [1]

It comes after Carers NI recently revealed that £9 million of Carer’s Allowance overpayments have been referred to the Department for Communities’ Debt Management branch since 2021 due to local carers breaching weekly earnings rules. [2] One local carer told Carers NI that they’re afraid they’ll lose their home after going over the earnings cap by just a few pounds per week and receiving a demand to pay back over £4,000.

Carer’s Allowance is the main welfare benefit for those providing unpaid care for sick or disabled loved ones in Northern Ireland. Claimants can bring in a small amount of additional income each week and still keep their Carer’s Allowance payment, which is currently worth £81.90 per week, [3] but MLAs and campaigners have said the earnings rules are too complicated and leave many people building up significant overpayment debts after inadvertently going over the weekly limit.

The average overpayment being clawed back by Stormont last year was over £1,600 – more than 30% of the value of Carer’s Allowance for a whole year. [2] 

Craig Harrison, Public Affairs Manager at Carers NI, said:

These new figures reveal the staggering scale of the Carer’s Allowance overpayments scandal in Northern Ireland. Nearly one in every 10 claimants of the benefit here are being pursued for overpayments which, we can confidentially guess in a lot of cases, were entirely inadvertent and driven by the complexity of the earnings rules. Hunger and hardship will surely follow as many struggle to pay the money back. Why isn’t the Department intervening earlier to stop carers building up such enormous debts? Why isn’t there a system in place to flag overpayments right away, rather than weeks or months later? Carers are under so much pressure as they spend every day propping up the health system and they need a social security benefit that supports them, not one that so severely punishes innocent mistakes.”

The scandal was highlighted in the Assembly chamber by the Alliance Party’s Sian Mulholland this week (21 May). The North Antrim MLA said in a statement that the Carer’s Allowance earnings rules were “opaque, complex and make it incredibly challenging for carers to stay within the limits… For many carers, these overpayments represent a significant financial burden, often pushing them further info hardship.” [4]


Notes to editors

  1. In response to an Assembly Written Question, the Department for Communities confirmed that “there are currently 4,969 individuals who have Carers Allowance overpayments being recovered.” The Department did not provide a breakdown on the reason for these overpayments. See:
  2. Data provided by the Department for Communities in response to a Freedom of Information request shows that, between 2021/22 and 2023/24, 6,514 Carer’s Allowance overpayments were referred to the Department’s Debt Management unit due to breaches of the weekly earnings limit, with a total value of £9.2 million. The breakdown was as follows:
    • 2021/22: 2,278 overpayments worth £2.9 million.
    • 2022/23: 2,169 overpayments worth £2.9 million.
    • 2023/24: 2,067 overpayments worth £3.3 million.
  3. Carer’s Allowance is the main social security benefit for unpaid carers in Northern Ireland. It is provided to those who care for a sick or disabled family member or friend for a minimum of 35 hours per week. There are over 48,000 recipients of Carer’s Allowance in Northern Ireland and the benefit is worth £81.90 per week. Carer’s Allowance recipients can earn up to £151 per week in additional income and keep their Carer’s Allowance payments. It is up to carers to report any changes in circumstances which results in them earning more than the weekly cap.
  4. See Assembly Hansard:
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