Wigan council house tenants due for rebate

Rebate for some council house tenants
Rebate for some council house tenants

Dozens of council house tenants in Wigan are set for a rents rebate after an over-charging slip-up.

An investigation was launched after it was found homes which had benefitted from new upstairs bathrooms, replacing a bedroom, were sent incorrect bills.

But council bosses say less than 220 properties across the borough were affected by the blunder, which has been blamed on management of the former Wigan and Leigh Homes (WALH).

Housing officials discovered the error after management of the borough’s 22,000 council homes was brought back under town hall control from WALH in 2017, councillors have been told, and legal advice has been sought by the council, in a bid to put the mistake right.

Another four council houses were actually undercharged rent, as a result of the blunder, but council chiefs say these bills will only be corrected once the tenancies change hands.

In a report to the council’s audit committee, deputy chief executive Paul McKevitt said that the problem arose when a new bed size formula was introduced by WALH.

Mr McKevitt added: “The council has recently sought counsel and other practitioner professional opinions to ensure that it deals with all associated matters legitimately and correctly.

“In addition an internal investigation is ongoing to establish exactly what occurred and why the issue was not dealt with correctly by the former WALH management.”

An approach has also been made to the Department of Work and Pensions, as the error will have affected a number of housing benefit claims, and the council’s external auditors have been informed.

The former WALH began a five-year bathrooms refurbishment programme in 2013 and had been proceeding on an estate-by-estate basis.

Work began on homes in Lower Ince, Shevington and Standish Lower Ground in 2013-14, and was rounded off by improvements in Platt Bridge, Atherton and Leigh during the past financial year.

While some homes were given over-bath or walk-in showers, others were fitted with new extractor fans, new energy-efficient LED lighting or updated painting and decoration.

A Wigan Council spokesman said: “We have recently become aware that a very small number of council tenants have been charged incorrectly for their rent. This error occurred while properties were under the management of Wigan and Leigh Homes.

“The error occurred when properties were fitted with a new upstairs bathroom as part of the refurbishment programme, which resulted in the loss of a bedroom. While the former management company adjusted some of the rents to reflect this change others weren’t.

“We estimate that only a very small number, less than one per cent, of the council’s housing stock is affected by this issue.

“Those affected have been notified of the error and our officers have been working hard to adjust all the accounts.

“Those entitled to a refund will be notified in due course. There are also four cases where individuals have underpaid rent. This will be corrected only when the tenancy changes.

“To avoid more errors like this we will be carrying out a full property survey to ensure our records are correct and up-to-date.

“We’d like to apologise for the inconvenience caused.”