The council checked the circumstances of thousands of benefits claimants across the borough and realised hundreds of people were being paid too much. They blame the problem on claimants failing to report a change in circumstances that would reduce benefit payments.
Now people claiming too much benefit have been warned that they will be caught and forced to repay the money they owe.
Since December 2013, more than 7,600 claimants have been reviewed in Telford, saving the £700,000, and officers are continuing to check claimants at a rate of 600 per month. Shropshire Council is also carrying out a similar review, although it was unable to provide figures. Staff from the Benefits Service say every claimant will eventually be reviewed to ensure that no-one is cheating the system.
Richard Atkins, of Telford & Wrekin Council, said:
If we are paying out too much benefit for too long then it is our taxpayers that take the financial hit. We have a responsibility to look after every penny.£150,000 has been saved over two years in council tax support alone. New rules will soon cap council tax benefit to £20,000, which Telford & Wrekin Council says will save it at least a further £241,000 in payments.
In September, the council launched a scheme that encouraged residents to report anyone they suspect of claiming benefits they were not entitled to. Fraud reporting tools were added to the council’s Everyday Telford app in an attempt to get more people to come forward and potential fraudsters.
And in March 2014, the council also held an amnesty for people to come forward about any council tax benefits or discounts they have been mistakenly claiming.
Telford & Wrekin Council said it must make £35 million of cuts from its budget over the next three years, after already cutting its budget by £70 million since 2010. That means that by 2019 total cuts will amount to more than £100 million.