Council owed £9m in benefit overpayments

By Tony Earnshaw and Debora Aru 
Local Democracy Reporters 

A STAGGERING £9.1m in overpaid housing benefit still needs to be paid back in Kirklees.

The figure has emerged in new data published by the Department for Work and Pensions.

Some £616,000 of the debt was written off as unrecoverable during the last financial year.

The overpaid benefit figure does not include fraudulent claims, which are counted separately.

During the financial year 2018/19, the data shows £2.6m of housing benefit overpayments were identified in Kirklees. £4.3m was recovered during those 12 months, up from £3.7m the year before.

The total amount still owed has actually fallen slightly from £9.3m to £9.1m partly because of write-offs.

Housing benefit is intended to help those who are unemployed, on a low income or claiming other benefits, to pay their rent. It is currently being replaced by Universal Credit.

Two months ago Kirklees Council revealed that it wrote off almost £6m of bad debt during the financial year 2018-19.

But whilst the figure appeared high, finance chiefs at the council said it reflected only a tiny percentage of the authority’s revenue. 

They warned those whose debt had been formally written off that it may still be pursued in future if new information comes to light.

The largest write-offs from April 2018 to March 2019 were in council tax (£1,882,304), adult social care (£1,409,686), business rates (£910,652) and finance services (£811,250), which related mainly to housing benefit overpayment recovery.

The cumulative figure of £5.9m was slightly higher than the 2017-18 amount of £5.5m. 

But as a percentage of debt raised, it was 1.2 per cent. 

In 2016-17 the percentage was higher, at 1.4 per cent.

Coun Cathy Scott, Kirklees Council’s portfolio holder for housing and democracy, was approached to comment.

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