Coun­cil’s £1.9m ben­e­fit er­ror

Glamorgan Gazette - - News - BY ABBY BOLTER abby.bolter@waleson­

HOUS­ING ben­e­fit pay­ment er­rors to­talling al­most £2m have been made by Brid­gend Coun­cil in a sin­gle year, ac­cord­ing to a new re­port.

Brid­gend Coun­cil both un­der­paid and over­paid claimants due to hu­man er­ror in the 2016-17 fi­nan­cial year, a watch­dog found.

The Wales Au­dit Of­fice (WAO) said, among the test cases, er­rors ranged from as high as £1,889 to as low as 30p which was caused by mis­takes sur­round­ing record­ing of earned in­come and de­duc­tions, changes in rent and hous­ing oc­cu­pancy.

In a re­port con­sid­ered by Brid­gend Coun­cil’s au­dit com­mit­tee last Thurs­day, the WAO said the coun­cil should seek to re­pay those un­der­paid and de­cide whether to re­cover or write off over­pay­ments.

A spokesman for the coun­cil said it takes the find­ings se­ri­ously and strives for 100% ac­cu­racy. But it said most of the er­rors re­lated to amounts of £50 a year or less.

The WAO re­port said the coun­cil “has gen­er­ally sound ac­count­ing and fi­nan­cial re­port­ing prac­tices”.

But it said some ar­eas needed to be strength­ened and found “a high pro­por­tion of er­rors” in the hous­ing ben­e­fits claims.

Out of a sam­ple of 45 claims tested, it said 11 had been in­cor­rectly pro­cessed and paid, with er­rors to­talling £3,087.06.

Us­ing the find­ings of the sam­ple it ex­trap­o­lated a “hy­po­thet­i­cal es­ti­mate” of the over­all er­ror in pay­ments to be £1.9m.

The watch­dog said the coun­cil should en­sure train­ing and man­age­ment over­sight of hous­ing ben­e­fit staff is strength­ened.

Brid­gend County In­de­pen­dents, a group rep­re­sent­ing some in­de­pen­dent coun­cil­lors, has called for the coun­cil “to carry out a full and trans­par­ent re­view”.

A state­ment posted on their Face­book page said: “While we are of course alarmed at any over­pay­ments at a time when they are cut­ting the ed­u­ca­tion bud­get by £800,000 and cut­ting back es­sen­tial ser­vices, we are deeply troubled that peo­ple and fam­i­lies in need may have been pushed fur­ther into hard­ship as a re­sult of un­der­pay­ments.”

A coun­cil spokesman said: “All of the in­ac­cu­ra­cies have been ad­dressed, and we are in the process of im­ple­ment­ing im­proved pro­ce­dures.”

Coun­cil­lor Norah Clarke, leader of the of­fi­cial in­de­pen­dent-led op­po­si­tion on the coun­cil, said: “I un­der­stand that a sam­ple of 45 cases were ex­am­ined out of a to­tal of 16,000 hous­ing ben­e­fit claims.

“The to­tal over­pay­ment amounted to £3,087 of which one was for £1,889. Some of these over­pay­ments have al­ready been re­cov­ered.

“I am pleased to see that man­age­ment checks on in­di­vid­ual hous­ing ben­e­fit claims will now be in­creas­ing along with tar­geted checks”.

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