21st Sep, 2020

Council 'sorry' as it keeps on taking after rent arrears paid off

Ross Crawford 14th Aug, 2020

BLUNDERING council officials have been slammed for demanding a Redditch tenant clear hundreds of pounds of rent arrears when in fact they owed him money.

Covid-19 cost family man Tom Parker his job but it was council staff who plunged him into despair as he tried to convince them their maths didn’t add up and it was physically impossible for him to owe so much money.

It was only when the Redditch Standard got involved that the authority checked its figures and acknowledged the agency worker with a head for maths was absolutely right.

However that didn’t stop them billing him again for a fictitious outstanding amount a week later.

“We have no idea if this was a one off or system wide failure and how many other people in Redditch might be making payments that do not come off what they owe,” said Tom, who lives with his partner and young child.

The family’s nightmare began in March when Tom was made redundant as the coronavirus pandemic struck.

Struggling for cash, like many the family fell into rent arrears but arranged a repayment plan at source from their Universal Credit.

“I rang the council on May 15 to see how much we owed so I could keep a record of when the arrears would be paid off,” said Tom.

“We at this point had no issues because we owed the money and fair is fair.”

He was told the arrears were £300.

Paying an extra £110 a month, he rang again on July 30 expecting to be £30 in credit, only to be told the rent arrears now stood at £450.

“We thought that was simply impossible. How could we have paid £330 off a £300 debt and owe £450?”

He says he rechecked the maths and in desperation rang the council.

When he got through he was told the family didn’t owe £450, but £358.

“At the same time we message Universal Credit and they told us we owed £500. It was then we contacted the Redditch Standard.”

Last week the council apologised to Mr Parker and said a refund would be due, only to then send him another demand – for £358.

When contacted a council spokesperson said the mix up was due to the automation of the system and that the family would indeed receive their refund.

Mr Parker said: “Thank you Redditch Standard so much for all your help. The council are quick enough when you owe them money but they drag their heels when it’s the other way round.”

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