Data released by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has highlighted the monumental sum of overpayments made to those claiming housing benefits in the borough. By the start of quarter four in the last financial year (January 2018), £13,208,000 of incorrect payments had been made to claimants across Wigan.
During the same period of time, only £1.17m had been recovered, meaning that thousands of Wiganers could still be called upon to reimburse the extra cash.
Housing benefits are available to people who are either out of work, or on a low income, to help them pay their rent.
It cannot be claimed by those already receiving Universal Credit.
Lesley O’Halloran, assistant director for customer services at Wigan Council, said: “There are a range of reasons overpayments are made, varying from customers incorrectly filling in forms or not informing us of changes in their circumstances in a timely manner, which may affect their housing benefit award.
“Where an overpayment has been made, we will work with the customer to ensure any repayments are made in a way that is suitable for them and takes into consideration affordability and their personal circumstance.”
Between January and March 2018, a total of £408,000 of outstanding overpayments were written off - meaning that the recipients will not have to repay the extra balance.
According to the DWP, the amount of overpayments written off changes throughout the year.
It is “generally” highest in quarter four (January to March) of each collection year followed by a sharp decrease during quarter one of the following year.
This is reflected in Wigan where the quarter four figure of £408k, is 13 times higher than quarter one - where only £31k was written off. The total national value of housing benefit overpayments written off during 2017/18 was £100 million; an increase of £5 million (five per cent) in comparison to those overpayments written off in 2016/17.
Overall, the national picture shows a dramatic increase in the amount of housing benefit overpayments, with around £2.12bn outstanding across all UK local authorities; an increase of £102 million (5.1 per cent) on this point the previous year.