Headlines: December 14th, 2007

A London council is being criticised for a 14-month delay in making housing benefit payments to a woman after she won an appeal against its refusal of her claim. In a report today the Local Government Ombudsman says Ealing Council’s failure to monitor what was happening suggests a level of carelessness beyond its original error.

The Ombudsman, Tony Redmond, found the council had failed to take action for 10 months, and that an administrative error led to a further four-month wait. The woman, identified under the assumed name of ‘‘Mrs Nawal’ for legal reasons, complained that the council failed to pay her benefits in spite of the fact that it had not challenged her entitlement after an Appeals Tribunal decided in her favour.

Mr. Redmond finds Ealing Council was at fault for taking no action to put her claim into payment for 10 months after losing the appeal and that it did so only after she had complained to him. There was then a four-month delay in carrying out a full assessment after she provided additional information in support of her claim that was not linked to the correct case reference number.

The woman’s complaint, he says, revealed the fact that the authority failed to monitor its performance against targets that were agreed after previous complaints to the Ombudsman from other local residents in similar circumstances. “The failure to monitor what was going on, despite the fact that Mrs Nawal’s complaint was subject to an investigation by my office, suggests a level of carelessness which goes beyond the initial error,” Mr. Redmond says in today’s report.

He is now recommending the council to send Mrs Nawal a letter of apology and to pay her 500 pounds as well as ensuring it regularly monitors its performance against the agreed targets. He is also calling on the authority to identify any other cases that are still outstanding from before October 2006 and to ensure appropriate action is taken with them. He also wants a review of Ealing’s procedures for cases where two reference numbers are used so these can be simplified.