Friday, 4 May 2012

The reality of benefits administration

The following harrowing example was provided to me by Reverend Paul Nicolson Chair of the Zachaeus 2000 Trust ( )
Local Government Ombudsman reports the case of “Mr Watson”, a single, semi- literate adult living alone in Southwark, London. Jobcentre Plus mistakenly cancelled his JSA so Southwark cancelled his housing and council tax benefits creating arrears in both accounts. On the 12th January 2001 CSL, Southwark’s out sourced agent collecting council tax, sent Mr. Watson a summons for unpaid council tax of £235.10, plus costs, for a court hearing on 9th February 2001.  The summons contains the following threats, in bold type and highlighted. Thousands are dispatched daily:

“If a liability order is granted the council will be able to take one or more of the following actions:  instruct bailiffs to take your goods to settle your debt - this can include your car.  You will be liable to pay the bailiffs costs which could substantially increase the debt. Instruct your employer to deduct payments from your salary or wages. Deduct money straight from your jobseekers allowance or income support. Make you bankrupt. Make a charging order against your home. Have you committed to prison”.     

His sister-in-law called on him. His body is hanging in his flat.  The police found the  summons with him, paper littered with rough calculations and a note:

“Dear ….          I at to do this I am in so much in Detr good By for ever Love……”

Threats of eviction for rent arrears were not far off. JSA was £53.05 a week after rent and council tax (now £64.30).  The Joseph Rowntree Foundation minimum income standard for healthy living after rent and council tax  is £144 a week for a single adult.

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