Assurances from council over benefit claim concerns

BY MICHAEL RUSSELL
michael.russell@whfp.co.uk

Highland Council’s finance director has written to Skye and Lochalsh Citizens Advice Bureau assuring them that no self-employed housing benefit claimants have been penalised by a flaw in their computer system.

Last month, the CAB revealed that one of its clients who had fallen ill had been refused housing benefit because the council’s computer system focused solely on national insurance contributions rather than on eligibility for Employment and Support Allowance. Their welfare rights officer Barbara Bailey said this amounted to a flaw in the software used by the council’s system and also throughout Scotland.

In a letter to the CAB, sent last week, finance director Derek Yule wrote: “I would like to assure you that rigorous controls, subject to detailed internal and external audits, are in place to protect the integrity of our benefits administration and decision-making processes. This of course means that in the event of a possible issue with our systems or procedures it is standard practice for us to review all potentially affected claims.

“We have now received advice from our software supplier and have corrected your client’s benefit calculation. We have also adjusted the Discretionary Housing Payment accordingly. New benefit and DHP award letters will be issued shortly. As expected, the overall effect is that there is no change to your client’s total financial award.

“We have also undertaken a Highland-wide review of our records and confirm that there is only one other claim based on ESA where there is ‘nil entitlement’ to Housing Benefit. The benefit calculation is correct in that case as the customer also has other income and capital. I have noted that you do not have any other clients affected by this matter.”