Council paid out £2m too much

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The council is looking for ways to claw back cash after overpaying £2million in housing benefits over the last five years.

Derbyshire Dales District Council is still owed more than £500,000 from residents in benefits following years of overpayment.

The news comes as the authority looks to axe £1.2million from its spending over the next few years, after already slashing £1.3million from last year’s budget.

In a report presented to the Corporate Committee, three reasons are given for the overpayment.

The first is claimants who do not inform the authority of a chance in circumstances, which could be down to a genuine error on the resident’s part, of by fraud.

The next reason is council error, where the authority has calculated the entitlement incorrectly or there has been a delay in assessment.

The final cause is put down to departmental official error, whereby another agency makes an error in assessing entitlement to Income Support or Job Seekers Allowance and housing benefits is awarded as a consequence of this error.

The council admitted that due to limited resources and a lack of dedicated overpayments officer, work to get the money back has been slow, however it has recently sent out 59 letters of warning in cases of fraud, 197 reminders and 175 final notices in a bid to amend the situation.

A spokesman for the council said: “Derbyshire Dales actually has the lowest figure of housing benefit overpayment outstanding of any of the local authorities in Derbyshire. The majority of overpayments are caused by changes in circumstances and delays in claimants notifying us of changes. There are also fraudulent claims of course.

“In tight economic times for local government, we don’t currently have an officer who deals solely with the recovery of overpayments of this type. Of the total amount outstanding, over half of the amount is being collected by weekly deductions from ongoing housing benefit. Over the past five years we have actually collected over 76 per cent of the amounts we are owed overall.”