Stockport council owed £5.5m in housing benefit that it overpaid to residents

Manchester Evening News 1 month ago

Stockport council is currently owed more than £5.5m in housing benefits it has wrongly paid out to residents.

The figure represents the total amount of money outstanding - including from previous years - that is yet to be recouped by the authority.

Overpayments made to people in receipt of the benefit totalled £2.2m over the last financial year, while some £354,000 was written off over the same period.

The rules on who is eligible for housing benefit are set by the government and payments are administered by local authorities. 

The council - which was owed a total of £5.8m at the end of  2018/19 - has warned it will ‘exhaust all reasonable avenues’ in order to recover the money.

Coun Tom McGee, cabinet member for resources, said the council took overpayment of housing benefit ‘extremely seriously’.

 

He said: “We work hard to recover all overpayments – over 70 per cent of which are due to circumstances outside the council’s control - mainly claimant error and some fraud.

“The council exhausts all reasonable avenues to recover overpayments – these can include deductions from claimants future benefit payments and earnings."

But he added there were barriers to recouping everying the council is owed.

"But because of issues such as bankruptcy or bereavement, getting all money back is not always possible.

"And as the people the money is being collected from are generally on a low income, collection rates are limited to prevent pushing people into further crisis."

The council is currently facing a £10m funding gap, meaning it is vital it keeps money lost to fraud and error to an absolute minimum.

And Coun McGee says the authority is always looking at how it can recover money it has wrongly paid out.

He said: “We are constantly reviewing our processes to ensure that we claim as much back as possible – this includes strengthening our training provision for current and new staff and robust and regular audit checks ensuring that any recommendations on improving recovery rates are quickly and fully implemented.”

Greater Manchester’s local authorities were owed nearly £100m at the end of 2018/19 according to the latest government figures.

Manchester had the highest amount outstanding - some £27.4m - followed by Wigan and Salford (both £12.8m).

Rochdale (£5.1m), Bury (£5.5m) and Stockport (£5.8m) were owed the least.


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