Wigan Council reclaim £2m in overpaid housing benefits
Wigan Council reclaimed more than £2m in overpaid housing benefit from claimants, which charities say could push them dangerously into debt.
Turn2Us, which helps people in financial hardship, warned that recovering funds paid in error could have a “snowball effect”, putting people at risk of serious poverty and impacting their mental health.
The Department for Work and Pensions data shows the amount of money recovered by the local authority which was accidentally paid to people who are not entitled to benefits or who got paid more benefit than they should. Cases of fraud are excluded.
The latest figures show that, in the nine months to September, housing benefit claimants had to pay back £2.68m to Wigan Council from overpayments.
It wrote off £414,000 of housing benefit overpayments but last September still had £13m of overpayments outstanding.
Matthew Geer, campaigns manager at Turn2Us said: “A benefit overpayment can happen for many reasons. It’s often something as simple as a DWP error or a small unreported change in circumstances.
“However, we are seeing that overpayments can have a real snowball effect on some claimants which often results in people falling into more severe debt and being harassed by bailiffs.
“The impact this can have one someone’s well-being is often overlooked and we speak to people every week struggling with their mental health as a result.”
Housing charity Shelter says the rates at which “housing benefit overpayments are clawed back can be be incredibly high”, which can push people into debt and homelessness.
But Lesley O’Halloran, assistant director of customer services at Wigan Council said: “Regardless of the cause of an overpayment we treat each case individually taking account of our customer’s personal circumstances. Our holistic approach offers support through Income Maximisation, Welfare
Advice, Support and Guidance for our vulnerable customers. We will always consider any reasonable offer of repayment.”