Coun­cil’s hous­ing ben­e­fit pay­ment er­rors ‘to­tal £1.9m’

South Wales Echo - - NEWS -

HOUS­ING ben­e­fit pay­ment er­rors to­talling al­most £2m have been made by one 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 said, among the test cases, er­rors ranged from as high as £1,889 to as low as 30p, which were caused by mis­takes sur­round­ing record­ing of earned in­come and de­duc­tions, changes in rent and hous­ing oc­cu­pancy.

In a re­port con­sid­ered by Brid­gend County Bor­ough Coun­cil’s audit com­mit­tee yes­ter­day, the Wales Audit Of­fice said the coun­cil should seek to re­pay those who were 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 Wales Audit Of­fice 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 its 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: “We take the find­ings of the Wales Audit Of­fice re­port very se­ri­ously as the coun­cil strives for 100% ac­cu­racy when claims.

“Around two-thirds of the er­rors iden­ti­fied by the re­port re­lated to amounts of £50 a year or less, or pro­cess­ing hous­ing ben­e­fit the equiv­a­lent of £1 a week.

“All of the in­ac­cu­ra­cies have been ad­dressed, and we are in the process of im­ple­ment­ing im­proved pro­ce­dures.”

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