Sunday, 3 June 2012

Medway Council CECO fabricating regulations

When I was first sent the link I was quite intrigued, in fact I'm sure you are too so here is the original website.

Before I come to my analysis I should point out that I am no expert in Housing benefit (ask me about the Luftwaffe's operations in 1940 and I can help), nor am I a serving member of the Council - just a member of the Libdems with an interest in what goes on in Medway. I must admit my interest is gained if there is a fault to be had at Gunwharf.

I have, also got some experience of being overpaid. Last year my employer overpaid me for some six months by a negligible sum that I had not noticed and it eventually came to about £200s which I had to pay back. Unable to pay it in a lump sum I had to pull countless long shifts and over time and spread remaining payments but needless to say sorted it out. I also spent a lot of time arguing with personnel about the problem etc.

That's by the by though, let us turn to the article.

Having read it about six times, asking my wife to read it and losing sleep (truly) thinking about it I've come to the conclusion that Medway Council have done nothing wrong.

The letter from the CECO lays out the fact that there has been an overpayment of benefit and that the Council has so far, in its communications been clear as to what is expected and why.

The Second part of the letter, which is the one where the accusation is founded states that "Official error" is still reason to reclaim overpayment (as in my pay).

I had to refer to the Housing benefit regulation from 2006 to answer this, specifically the mentioned HB 100. Although the CECO letter has added the "its no one's fault", which I presume is a way of saying sometimes stuff gets lost in the system or there's a hick up in the way great trundling behemoth bureaucracy sometimes does - the Council still have a right to claim the overpayment.

This is due to section (2) but is severely debatable. It all relies on the Landlord that received the benefit.

(2) Subject to paragraph (4) this paragraph applies to an overpayment caused by an official error where the claimant or a person acting on his behalf or any other person to whom the payment is made could not, at the time of receipt of the payment or of any notice relating to that payment, reasonably have been expected to realise that it was an overpayment.  (My emphasis)

This is where the debate should lie, in the term "reasonable." It is one of those grey terms that is very elastic, worded by a Whitehall lawyer so as to give those with the best legal teams (i.e Government) the best chance of winning.
Much like the term "Reasonable force."

I suppose it all boils down to the amounts. If we're talking about an extra £50s then it would be reasonable for the Landlord to notice and notify someone. If it was a smaller amount of say £5s then it wouldn't be reasonable and so unattainable.

The law, unfortunately, is fairly clear cut and unless the Resident can prove beyond "Reason" the Landlord was unaware then the money must be repaid. The third fabricated point could have been problematic if the Tenant was not hamstrung by Point (2).

Further to this though I offer the following observations;

1) the Tenant should be able to spread the repayments back over an affordable period of time so as not to leave himself in poverty. Such a repayment scheme should be negotiated with the Benefit office and with the mediation of a Ward Councillor.
Extra weight should be added to this as the Tenant is completely blameless in this  case as it is clearly an "Official" mistake. This MUST be taken into account by the council.

2) Council officers, however well meaning, should be very careful what they write. In this case the CECO is not in a position to effect the case and had such a statement been issued by the benefit office then, yeah, there'd be a real concern.

3) This unfortunate incident would have occurred no matter who was in charge of the Council be it Tory, Labour, Libdem or Independent. I would recommend that the relevant portfolio holder take a look at the incident or set up an enquiry into the CECO's actions on this occasion.

As I stated at the beginning I've no ties to the Council so this isn't a case of me cow towing to any political master or machine - I've gone over it repeatedly and it is with regret that I report these findings.

However as I also mentioned - I'm no expert in the field and someone with more knowledge on the workings of the bureaucratic machine may tell you something different and I would sincerely urge the Tenant to seek advice from their Ward Councillors immediately - If there is a genuine reason why this isn't possible then they should contact Medway CAB or maybe their MP.


  1. As a welfare benefits speialist of 23 years i would liketo point out that i feel you are wrong in this case, i have had many years of dealings with the CECO and i can confirm this example is simply the worse case i have seen in many years, it is my view that the letter in official capacity from the CECO equates to fraud by false representation. The LA have quoted the HB regulation in an official complaint response and have 'added' information to benefit them, this would also give rise to the 'Gain & Loss' claim within the fraud act 2006 i wish them well with the complaint.

    1. As I said, I'm no expert in the field just a well meaning observer.

      If that is indeed the case I too wish them well in the claim.