Council apologises to resident ‘forced to use foodbanks’ because of benefits error

The woman has been paid £500 in compensation following incorrect housing advice she received from Barnet Council, reports Simon Allin, Local Democracy Reporter

A woman said she fell into debt and had to use foodbanks after Barnet Council wrongly told her a rented home would be affordable.

The council has been told to pay £500 compensation to the resident after a watchdog found the town hall made a “completely inaccurate” calculation and overestimated the benefits she could claim by more than £600.

A report by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman reveals that after being threatened with homelessness, the woman – who is not named – sought help from the council and was advised to look for accommodation in the private rented sector in May last year.

The council said she would be eligible for housing benefit intended to cover the cost of renting a room in a shared house and that it could make an incentive payment to a landlord to help her secure a property.

In July, after viewing properties suggested by the council, the resident said she was happy with a studio flat. A housing needs officer estimated she would be entitled to £826.40 per month in Universal Credit and calculated that the home would be affordable if she paid £353.60 per month towards the rent from her salary, which she agreed to do.

But after moving into the property later that month, she was unable to pay the rent because she only received £188 per month in Universal Credit instead. The ombudsman found that because the council used the wrong figure for her monthly earnings, the benefits calculation was “completely inaccurate”.

To pay the rent, the resident had to apply for a discretionary housing payment (DHP) to cover the shortfall. The council initially refused her DHP application but later agreed after she appealed and said she had been given the wrong advice by the homelessness team.

According to the report, the resident was “put to a great deal of distress and anxiety” because of the incorrect calculation. She said she had to rely on foodbanks and borrow money from friends and family to survive, and that it had a negative impact on her mental health.

The ombudsman told the council to apologise and pay £500 to the woman “in recognition of the distress she has suffered, the time and trouble she was put to in having to complain to the council and to us, and the inconvenience of having to apply for DHPs and move to another property”.

A Barnet Council spokesperson said: “We apologise for the mistakes we made that have been highlighted by the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman and for the financial impact and distress this caused to the resident. We are grateful for the feedback given to us, and we have now taken the necessary steps to action the remedies as quickly and efficiently as possible.

“We are always striving to provide the best possible service to our residents, and we are disappointed that on this occasion we have fallen short. Therefore, we are also using this as a learning opportunity to prevent anything like this from happening again.”

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