One fifth of decisions on benefits are wrong, a new report by the National Audit Office on the complexity of the welfare system has found.
For disability living and attendance allowances, around half of all decisions taken include errors, says the study.
It points out that although “many errors do not lead to inaccurate payments”, the scale of mistakes reflects the complexity of the system.
Benefit fraud and error cost the government £2.6 billion last year, the report estimates. The complex benefits maze can lead to errors by staff and claimants and may “facilitate fraud,” it says.
There is “sizeable scope to reduce complexity for the benefit of customers and in the interests of greater efficiency,” says the report.
The report points out that complex benefits and claim forms are particularly difficult for people with mental health problems, or those who do not speak English well. It includes examples of how benefit complexity affected claimants, such as a man with brain damage, including memory loss, who could not cope with applying for multiple benefits.
The Department for Work and Pensions pays out more than £100 billion a year in benefits and pensions to 30 million people.
The government agrees the system is too complex and will be making changes, according to department for work and pensions minister James Plaskitt.
“Any benefit system which meets the needs of millions of people and which seeks to accommodate rapid social change, while guarding against abuse will inevitably have some degree of complexity. This complexity has built up over many decades. But we have acknowledged that we need to take action to make the system simpler for our customers and welcome the National Audit Office report,” said Plaskitt.
“We are committed to simplifying the system further where we can, and providing clear information for customers. We will build on the changes already introduced with proposals in our forthcoming green paper,” he added.
Dealing with the complexity of the benefits system, National Audit Office