Norwich MPs attack £17m housing benefit waste
Archant © 2011
A Norwich MP blasted the amount of housing benefit wasted as "shocking" after the Evening News revealed £17m was overpaid by City Hall in three years.
The figures, released after a Freedom of Information request, show £4.7m was overpaid by Norwich City Council last year – enough to cover the black hole in the authority’s budget for the next financial year.
Housing benefit fraud has totalled just under £1m since 2008 while last year the council clawed back £108,136 and caught 51 housing benefit cheats.
Mistakes and delays on the part of housing benefit claimants in telling the council that their details had changed were the chief cause of the waste, rather than council error.
Norwich South MP Simon Wright said: “It is shocking to discover that the scale of overpayments over the last three years have been so high.
“It is generally accepted at most councils there will be some degree of error.
“The issue is whether the people (claiming benefits) are aware that they need to inform the councils.
“There are things that councils can do and have to do at a time when deficits need to be reduced.”
The amount of benefit paid is affected by income, savings, and the number of people living in a house, but delays by claimants in telling the authority their circumstances had changed meant 6.6pc of the £69m housing benefit cash, which comes from the government but is distributed by the city council, was overpaid last year.
Mr Wright called on councils to work with credit rating agencies to find out what claimants’ true circumstances are.
Norwich North MP Chloe Smith said the amounts wasted were “very concerning”.
She said: “I would like to see the council deal with this. It shouldn’t be beyond the council. I am sure staff are trying their very hardest but clearly more needs to be done.”
At Broadland Council £1,141,200 was overpaid in the same period – £1,058,600 caused by mistakes from claimants and £82,600 by mistakes from the council, while fraudsters took £311,200.
At South Norfolk Council where £76,314 was paid in error and cheats took £782,193, over half of the money has been recovered.
All the councils said they were attempting to claw money back and were punishing false claims through courts, sanctions, warnings and fines.