Council trying to recover £1.5M of overpaid benefits

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Scottish Borders Council is attempting to recover almost £1.5 million of overpaid housing benefit.

Department of Work and Pension figures published last week revealed that the council had £1.49m outstanding at the end of September 2012 and had recovered just over £1.1m of wrongly paid benefits since mid-2008.

Since then, £67,000 has been written off by the council, and in the first half of this financial year a further £22,000 has been written off.

An SBC spokesperson told TheSouthern that overpayments had increased for a number of reasons.

These included increased housing benefit caseload, backlogs of work due to restructuring and the introduction of new automated systems, and increased fraud investigation work.

He added: “In addition to more overpayments being made, due to the economic situation and debtors mainly being on low incomes, recovery of these types of debts is challenging.

“The council’s objective is to prevent overpayments arising in the first place. The write-offs quoted are over a five year period and are mainly due to claimants being sequestrated or claimants who cannot be traced.

“The council is increasing the resources dedicated to recovery of debts of all income types with effect from April 1, 2013 to ensure its income is maximised.”

In the second quarter of 2012/13, the council identified £142,000 of overpaid housing benefits, but recovered just £124,000.

Only a handful of cases have been pursued through the courts this financial year, despite investigators looking into more than 100 cases.

From April 1, working age housing benefit claimants will be hit with a 14 per cent cut if they have an unused bedroom and a 25 per cent cut if they have two or more extra rooms, under new welfare changes.

Housing benefit is actually being abolished on a phased basis between 2013 and 2017 under the changes and will eventually become part of the new universal credit benefit.