Overpayment sees housing benefit claimants handed £3.4 million by Stevenage Borough Council in last four years
- Credit: Archant
Stevenage Borough Council has overpaid more than £3.4 million pounds of taxpayers’ money in housing benefit since 2010, the Comet can reveal.
Figures obtained through a Freedom of Information request shows that over a four year period the council overpaid almost £2.8 million to claimants who failed to notify changes in their circumstances.
More than £666,000 was wasted by errors at the council.
Councillor Robin Parker, who is the authority’s opposition leader, said: “It is quite common for people not to tell the council when their circumstances change and it creates a big problem. It is their responsibility but I think the system could be made easier to work.
“It is equally worrying that the council overpaid so much money due to its own error. I think it needs to get its act together a bit more – it’s wasting taxpayers’ money.”
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Over the same period the council has claimed back more than £4.5m in housing benefit wrongly paid out – although not all this money relates to claims made during that time.
The amount recovered from benefit cheats rocketed from just under £155,000 in 2012/13 to more than £400,000 in the last financial year.
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Council leader Sharon Taylor said: “It is important that we see it in context. The council distributes more than £34 million of benefits a year, most of which are administered on behalf of the government.
“The council has made significant improvements in the amount of money recovered, especially from fraud, in the past year.
“A lot of people now have very erratic work patterns, especially if they are working zero hour contracts. This makes it difficult to keep track of people’s benefit entitlements.
“I would encourage people to keep notifying the council of their circumstances. If they ignore it they could end up with big arrears to pay.”
Strategic director of resources at the council Scott Crudgington said: “Benefit overpayments can occur for a variety of reasons. For example, a claimant could fail to notify us of a change in their circumstances, someone could try to make a fraudulent claim, or the council could experience administration delays, which tend to occur when our Benefits Service experiences high levels of demand, particularly since the recent welfare reform changes.”