Council threatens to take single mum to court over 3p benefit overpayment

Council chiefs threatened to take a single mum to court over a housing benefit overpayment of just 3p.

Charlotte Collins was sent the demanding letter from Wigan Council warning her they would take ‘further action to recover the debt’ unless she settled the tiny bill.

The 40-year-old said she was ‘amazed’ to receive the stern letter stating if she failed to pay up within seven days, the authority would take further action.

Possible courses of action included instructing her employer to take the money from her earnings, ‘a seizure of assets’, or the matter being taken to court.

A town hall boss has since admitted the tone of the letter “is at odds” with the 3p owed.

Earlier this year, Ms Collins was ordered to repay more than £260 in housing benefits which she had been overpaid due to working extra hours.

After making two separate payments of £71.70 and £90.73, she agreed to pay the remaining sum in £10 weekly instalments.

Ms Collins, from Leigh, says the council informed her last month that her debt had been cleared.

Believing the matter resolved, she says she was ‘amazed’ to later be told she owed another three pence.

“I couldn’t understand it,” she said.

“They said it had all been paid off so I am not sure where it’s come from.

“The wording was totally inappropriate for that amount of money.

“Something like that would frighten some people.

“I just thought it was funny but a bit of daft thing to do, especially in the middle of a pandemic.”

Ms Collins, who works as a cleaner at Asda, says she has since repaid the 3p, but cannot understand why she was chased for it in
the first place.

“It is unbelievable that they are chasing debts so small,” she said.

“I’m curious to know if they would have actually gone ahead with the things they threatened.

“It is not easy to pay that amount of money. I had to write 0.03.

“My son thinks it is all very funny.

“Hopefully that should be it and I won’t get another letter.”

Paul McKevitt, deputy chief executive of Wigan Council said: “Housing benefits are administered by the council on behalf of the government.

“We are subject to an external audit on this and can be fined if we incorrectly calculate or administer claims.

“We recover overpayments and repay them to central government and because of the amount of claims we deal with, we use automated letters.

“In this case the letter sent and tone is at odds with the amount outstanding.

“We thanks our resident for raising this issue and will see if we can address this in future.”