Housing benefits overpayments still owed to councils in Lincolnshire

Stock image - Money
Stock image - Money

Councils in Lincolnshire are owed more than £25 million in overpayments for housing benefits.

The City of Lincoln Council tops the district council charts with £3.65 million outstanding, while out of the two unitary authorities North Lincolnshire is owed the most with £4.74 million. North East Lincolnshire Council has £4.18 million outstanding.

The district councils are owed a total of £16.51 million, with the least (£1.49 million) being owed to North Kesteven District Council.

Last year, councils wrote off more than £915,403, with Lincoln wiping £238,400 of that off its slate. Meanwhile South Holland District Council only lost out on £273.02.

An overpayment is an amount of housing benefit that the council pays to someone when they are not entitled to it.

Overpayments can occur for a number of reasons from delays in the system, to residents failing to notify the council when there is a change in their benefits.

Authorities can recover the money in a number of ways, including taking it out of future benefits, such as job seekers allowance or universal credit. At worst they can go through the courts.

A North East Lincolnshire Council spokesperson said the amount was “quite low in comparison with other nearby authorities”.

“About 90% of the outstanding figure is being actively collected. The remaining balance is made up of cases where we are attempting to make contact with the claimant, or cases where appeals are underway or the claimant is receiving assistance to pay it off.”

Members at a recent City of Lincoln Council committee meeting were told that at March 31, 2019, the council had £3,650,044 housing benefit overpayments outstanding.

Clare Moses, shared revenue and benefits manager, pointed out that the amount of money clawed back (£548,554 in Lincoln) over the past four months was higher than the debt accrued (£203,832) – the authority last year was owed £4.11 million.

The council wrote off £238,400 of its debt at the end of the last financial year – again the highest figure in the county. The council that wrote off the smallest figure was South Holland with £273.02.

It follows a review of the service carried out by the Department for Work and Pensions last year, which resulted in a new team being set up to tackle the issue.

“Since we’ve had a team in place we’ve had a better view of where overpayments sit. If they are within the window they don’t just sit there outstanding and not being collected,” she said.

When asked for its figures, a spokesman for Boston Borough Council said: “We want to assure residents that every reasonable attempt is made to recover the money owed – often clawed back by a reduction in ongoing benefit paid.”

Here’s what’s owed to who in Lincolnshire:

Lincoln – £3.65m

ELDC – £3.17m

BBC – £2.76m

WLDC – £2.27m

SKDC – £1.62m

SHDC – £1.55m

NKDC – £1.49m

North Lincolnshire – £4.74m

North East Lincolnshire – £4.18m

And here’s the amount councils have written off:

Lincoln – £238,400

NKDC – £115,608

BBC – £113,017

WLDC – £87,498

SKDC – £75,200

ELDC – £22,818

SHDC – £273.02

North East Lincolnshire – £145,748

North Lincolnshire – £116,840