Southend Council overpaid £691k in housing benefit

Martin Terry

Martin Terry

First published in News

SOUTHEND Council has had to raid emergency coffers after overpaying housing benefit by £691,000.

The Government has refused to reimburse the authority, which pays out housing benefit on behalf of the Department for Work and Pensions, as council officers made too many errors.

Staff have been retrained and an action plan put in place to stop the mistake happening again, but opposition councillors have called for an inquiry into how so much taxpayers’ cash could be wasted.

Martin Terry, spokesman for the Independent group of Southend councillors, said: “This is extremely disappointing and I am very angry given the cuts we have to make.

“One has to ask what could we done with this £691,000 that has been lost – perhaps keep the staff at the libraries and retain the care homes?

“It is all very well saying we have earmarked reserves, but this is just a smokescreen to cover failure. This is a huge amount of money that has been effectively wasted.

“If I lost £691,000 of my employer’s money I would expect a reprimand at the very least. A full inquiry needs to be undertaken and a full explanation needs to be heard from the head of service that is accountable for this catastrophic failure.”

Julian Ware-Lane, Labour councillor for Milton, said: “My interpretation is the over-payments made in error are about half a million more than what is considered par for the course.

“This will result in a draw down from reserves, reserves that could have been used in any special project. It shows the real losers are Southend’s residents.”

The council’s benefits team manages a caseload of more than 20,000 claimants with more than 1,000 changes in circumstances coming in every week and pays out £108million in benefits per year.

Acknowledging the complexity, the DWP allows an error rate of 0.54 per cent, but refused to reimburse the council as its error rate was 0.6 per cent in 2012/13, identified by auditors last month.

Paul Collins, Lib Dem chairman of the audit committee, said: “Of course, this is disappointing, but due to the volatile nature of the benefits system, the council has been prudent and has in previous years earmarked reserves to ensure that this will not affect service provision.

“I have been further assured by officers no claimant has been negatively impacted, that relevant staff have undergone further training and that the quality assurance and audit measures are properly in place moving forward.

“An action plan has also been developed which will be monitored by the audit committee throughout 2014/15.”

Comments (22)

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9:34am Sun 13 Apr 14

abd123 says...

20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?
20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits? abd123
  • Score: 7

10:08am Sun 13 Apr 14

ThisYear says...

abd123 wrote:
20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?
Offshoring might of helped..
[quote][p][bold]abd123[/bold] wrote: 20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?[/p][/quote]Offshoring might of helped.. ThisYear
  • Score: 0

10:09am Sun 13 Apr 14

Wizardweb says...

Having worked with the unemployed on the Work Programme, I would say the council could save a lot of money by speeding up the process time for new claims and adjustments. It currently takes 5 weeks to process new claims and a lot of people won't accept temporary jobs or report changes in circumstances because of that process time.

The overpayment/reclaim cycle takes too long to resolve and often leaves people short of funds to pay the rent. It needs to happen on the same timescales the job centre can manage. It could be argued the claimant should put the overpayment by, ready for the reclaim, but you literally have no idea how much that is going to be and usually it's not paid back in one go, but over the course of months, which is not a practical solution for the claimants. The key to getting people back to work is giving them hope and helping them, if they think that they will be negatively impacted by something, they quite reasonably won't do it.
Having worked with the unemployed on the Work Programme, I would say the council could save a lot of money by speeding up the process time for new claims and adjustments. It currently takes 5 weeks to process new claims and a lot of people won't accept temporary jobs or report changes in circumstances because of that process time. The overpayment/reclaim cycle takes too long to resolve and often leaves people short of funds to pay the rent. It needs to happen on the same timescales the job centre can manage. It could be argued the claimant should put the overpayment by, ready for the reclaim, but you literally have no idea how much that is going to be and usually it's not paid back in one go, but over the course of months, which is not a practical solution for the claimants. The key to getting people back to work is giving them hope and helping them, if they think that they will be negatively impacted by something, they quite reasonably won't do it. Wizardweb
  • Score: 7

10:20am Sun 13 Apr 14

Keptquiettillnow says...

Mistakes happen, but when its tax payers money, Gov.UK the NHS etc no one ever seems to take responsibility.
So this week reported so far
£700k lost at the council
£900k fine to Southend hospital for the A&E problem
Have any of the top bods gone? you know the ones, if you want the best you have to pay the top money.
Has anyone called the police yet?
Mistakes happen, but when its tax payers money, Gov.UK the NHS etc no one ever seems to take responsibility. So this week reported so far £700k lost at the council £900k fine to Southend hospital for the A&E problem Have any of the top bods gone? you know the ones, if you want the best you have to pay the top money. Has anyone called the police yet? Keptquiettillnow
  • Score: 13

10:21am Sun 13 Apr 14

ThisYear says...

Wizardweb wrote:
Having worked with the unemployed on the Work Programme, I would say the council could save a lot of money by speeding up the process time for new claims and adjustments. It currently takes 5 weeks to process new claims and a lot of people won't accept temporary jobs or report changes in circumstances because of that process time.

The overpayment/reclaim cycle takes too long to resolve and often leaves people short of funds to pay the rent. It needs to happen on the same timescales the job centre can manage. It could be argued the claimant should put the overpayment by, ready for the reclaim, but you literally have no idea how much that is going to be and usually it's not paid back in one go, but over the course of months, which is not a practical solution for the claimants. The key to getting people back to work is giving them hope and helping them, if they think that they will be negatively impacted by something, they quite reasonably won't do it.
"The key to getting people back to work is"; having available jobs that pay a realistic wage
[quote][p][bold]Wizardweb[/bold] wrote: Having worked with the unemployed on the Work Programme, I would say the council could save a lot of money by speeding up the process time for new claims and adjustments. It currently takes 5 weeks to process new claims and a lot of people won't accept temporary jobs or report changes in circumstances because of that process time. The overpayment/reclaim cycle takes too long to resolve and often leaves people short of funds to pay the rent. It needs to happen on the same timescales the job centre can manage. It could be argued the claimant should put the overpayment by, ready for the reclaim, but you literally have no idea how much that is going to be and usually it's not paid back in one go, but over the course of months, which is not a practical solution for the claimants. The key to getting people back to work is giving them hope and helping them, if they think that they will be negatively impacted by something, they quite reasonably won't do it.[/p][/quote]"The key to getting people back to work is"; having available jobs that pay a realistic wage ThisYear
  • Score: 11

10:22am Sun 13 Apr 14

Abington86 says...

and why has no one said SORRY?
and why has no one said SORRY? Abington86
  • Score: 6

11:02am Sun 13 Apr 14

ThisYear says...

Abington86 wrote:
and why has no one said SORRY?
Because 'sorry' has become such an empty word..
[quote][p][bold]Abington86[/bold] wrote: and why has no one said SORRY?[/p][/quote]Because 'sorry' has become such an empty word.. ThisYear
  • Score: 5

11:45am Sun 13 Apr 14

Nebs says...

Abington86 wrote:
and why has no one said SORRY?
Why should they worry, it's not their money. They don't care about the claimants either, thats why they take so long to deal with changes in circumstances.
In the private sector, if you have a backlog of work then you find a way to resolve the problem. In the public sector you take a weeks leave and it becomes someone elses problem.
[quote][p][bold]Abington86[/bold] wrote: and why has no one said SORRY?[/p][/quote]Why should they worry, it's not their money. They don't care about the claimants either, thats why they take so long to deal with changes in circumstances. In the private sector, if you have a backlog of work then you find a way to resolve the problem. In the public sector you take a weeks leave and it becomes someone elses problem. Nebs
  • Score: 9

12:12pm Sun 13 Apr 14

yagetme says...

abd123 wrote:
20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?
Lower wages are not enough to cover higher rents.
[quote][p][bold]abd123[/bold] wrote: 20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?[/p][/quote]Lower wages are not enough to cover higher rents. yagetme
  • Score: 7

12:30pm Sun 13 Apr 14

I care about rayleigh says...

How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.
How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them. I care about rayleigh
  • Score: -2

4:38pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Howard Cháse says...

That's great his week's Ale and Pie Club meeting kiboshed then.....
That's great his week's Ale and Pie Club meeting kiboshed then..... Howard Cháse
  • Score: 1

4:55pm Sun 13 Apr 14

jayman says...

where did all the money go?... landlords benefit!

rent £825 PCM

wages £1100 PCM

Either wages need to dramatically rise or rents need to dramatically fall. its simple economics.
where did all the money go?... landlords benefit! rent £825 PCM wages £1100 PCM Either wages need to dramatically rise or rents need to dramatically fall. its simple economics. jayman
  • Score: 3

5:17pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Living the La Vida Legra says...

I care about rayleigh wrote:
How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.
Good point made. If they were back in their home council they would have friend and family to fall back on
[quote][p][bold]I care about rayleigh[/bold] wrote: How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.[/p][/quote]Good point made. If they were back in their home council they would have friend and family to fall back on Living the La Vida Legra
  • Score: -3

5:26pm Sun 13 Apr 14

jolllyboy says...

Excessive rents means those even in work need to claim housing benefit. They cannot save enough to buy/get a mortgage. its a catch 22 situation. until a proper living wage is given this will always happen. or else sort the landlords out - inc Southend BC whose rents are not low whatever people think.
Excessive rents means those even in work need to claim housing benefit. They cannot save enough to buy/get a mortgage. its a catch 22 situation. until a proper living wage is given this will always happen. or else sort the landlords out - inc Southend BC whose rents are not low whatever people think. jolllyboy
  • Score: 8

5:26pm Sun 13 Apr 14

rhowes says...

It really is a catastrophic waste of our money! In the private sector you don't find "error rates". You are accurate, or you consider your position.

I thought I read that our Council's Benefit Team won a national award last year,
and the leadership went of to some award ceremony! How much did that cost? Total incompetence prevails, as it has done under this Tory Administration for 14 years. Role on the elections on May 22nd!
It really is a catastrophic waste of our money! In the private sector you don't find "error rates". You are accurate, or you consider your position. I thought I read that our Council's Benefit Team won a national award last year, and the leadership went of to some award ceremony! How much did that cost? Total incompetence prevails, as it has done under this Tory Administration for 14 years. Role on the elections on May 22nd! rhowes
  • Score: 8

5:50pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Living the La Vida Legra says...

rhowes wrote:
It really is a catastrophic waste of our money! In the private sector you don't find "error rates". You are accurate, or you consider your position.

I thought I read that our Council's Benefit Team won a national award last year,
and the leadership went of to some award ceremony! How much did that cost? Total incompetence prevails, as it has done under this Tory Administration for 14 years. Role on the elections on May 22nd!
If what you say is correct It beggars belief #southendcouncil#epi
cfail
[quote][p][bold]rhowes[/bold] wrote: It really is a catastrophic waste of our money! In the private sector you don't find "error rates". You are accurate, or you consider your position. I thought I read that our Council's Benefit Team won a national award last year, and the leadership went of to some award ceremony! How much did that cost? Total incompetence prevails, as it has done under this Tory Administration for 14 years. Role on the elections on May 22nd![/p][/quote]If what you say is correct It beggars belief #southendcouncil#epi cfail Living the La Vida Legra
  • Score: 2

8:37pm Sun 13 Apr 14

profondo asbo says...

jayman wrote:
where did all the money go?... landlords benefit!

rent £825 PCM

wages £1100 PCM

Either wages need to dramatically rise or rents need to dramatically fall. its simple economics.
probably both
[quote][p][bold]jayman[/bold] wrote: where did all the money go?... landlords benefit! rent £825 PCM wages £1100 PCM Either wages need to dramatically rise or rents need to dramatically fall. its simple economics.[/p][/quote]probably both profondo asbo
  • Score: -1

9:38pm Sun 13 Apr 14

Matthew S. Dent says...

Martin Terry resigned on Friday. Couldn't the Independent Party, sorry, "Group" stump up an actual councillor for comment?
Martin Terry resigned on Friday. Couldn't the Independent Party, sorry, "Group" stump up an actual councillor for comment? Matthew S. Dent
  • Score: 3

8:26am Mon 14 Apr 14

Happy Chickie says...

I care about rayleigh wrote:
How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.
Just because someone has been born and bred in Southend doesn't mean they are entitled to benefits.

Entitlement has become a terrible word lately.
[quote][p][bold]I care about rayleigh[/bold] wrote: How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.[/p][/quote]Just because someone has been born and bred in Southend doesn't mean they are entitled to benefits. Entitlement has become a terrible word lately. Happy Chickie
  • Score: -1

9:59am Mon 14 Apr 14

joejoe111 says...

Southend Gangsta 4 Lyf wrote:
abd123 wrote:
20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?
Im on benefits. us southend bois dont need to work. we make our money through illegal activities and just see getting benefits as topping up our funds. da system aint doin u no favours, so screw dem.
its people like you who get everyone on benefits a bad name, grow up and get a job. oh when i said get a job i don't mean selling drugs haha
[quote][p][bold]Southend Gangsta 4 Lyf[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]abd123[/bold] wrote: 20,000 on Council benefits besides all the others on government benefits. How did we get to so many people on benefits?[/p][/quote]Im on benefits. us southend bois dont need to work. we make our money through illegal activities and just see getting benefits as topping up our funds. da system aint doin u no favours, so screw dem.[/p][/quote]its people like you who get everyone on benefits a bad name, grow up and get a job. oh when i said get a job i don't mean selling drugs haha joejoe111
  • Score: -1

11:19am Mon 14 Apr 14

pembury53 says...

I care about rayleigh wrote:
How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.
or country...
[quote][p][bold]I care about rayleigh[/bold] wrote: How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.[/p][/quote]or country... pembury53
  • Score: -3

10:17am Tue 15 Apr 14

Nebs says...

pembury53 wrote:
I care about rayleigh wrote:
How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.
or country...
All foreigners who come here to live are entitled to benefits, and they should get the benefits to which they are entitled. But the bill should be passed to their home country.
[quote][p][bold]pembury53[/bold] wrote: [quote][p][bold]I care about rayleigh[/bold] wrote: How many of the benefit are born and bred in Southend? Those that aren't should go back to to their own council and sponge off them.[/p][/quote]or country...[/p][/quote]All foreigners who come here to live are entitled to benefits, and they should get the benefits to which they are entitled. But the bill should be passed to their home country. Nebs
  • Score: 1

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