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Benefit errors are costing Watford Borough Council £1million a year
Errors processing Watford benefits claims, which have contributed to costing the borough more than £3 million over the last three years, have been criticised as "unacceptable" by politicians.
Councillors were unhappy to learn the Watford Borough Council was losing on average £1 million a year in the system of paying out benefits and claiming the money back from central government.
Politicians from both the ruling Liberal Democrats and opposition Labour called for the losses to be reduced and performance improved in the borough’s revenue and benefits department.
At a meeting of the budget panel on Tuesday, Central Lib Dem, Rabi Martins, said: "What alarmed me was the council over payments. It was almost £1 million. I think £1 million is unacceptable to me as a councillor. So my question is how do we bring that down?"
Labour deputy leader, Jagtar Singh Dhindsa, added: "It is going up every year. What are doing about it rising?"
Councillors were told part of the problem was down to a longstanding backlog of claims in the benefits department. This meant the council was slower to react to changes in claimants’ circumstances which led to over payments.
Joanne Wagstaffe, the council’s Director of Finance, added: "We need to get rid of the backlog and the other thing we are looking at is how the council can improve processing times for new ones as they come through the door."
The debate was prompted by figures released by the council on how much it had paid out in benefits over the last few years.
A report to the panel showed the borough had paid around £36 million in housing benefit and £6 million in Council Tax Benefit in the 2012-13 financial year.
Officials said it then had to claim those payments back from central government as a subsidy, but would not receive the full amount for errors and overpayments.
Figures showed Watford was left with a £754,565 bill in 2010-11; £1,110,122 in 2011-12 and £1,290,122 in 2012-13.
Later in the meeting councillors also discussed the potential of tailoring business rate relief to help struggling companies and encourage local ones.
He added: "If there was a particular area where we would want to encourage sustainability could we have a particular package we can offer people?"
However Mark Watkin, the Liberal Democrat portfolio holder for finance, responded: "I would want to sound a note of caution as I feel the role of the council is to provide the infrastructure and environment in which business can prosper.
"I think residents’ money is far better spent creating an environment where business can flourish, not on subjective areas. I think is a dangerous region and leaves us open to attack."
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