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