Opposition Liberal Democrats have revealed a benefits crisis causing misery for Luton households this Christmas and New Year.
Thousands of individuals and families are being left waiting to hear if they will be awarded Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit, or how much they will get. Meanwhile, the Council, Landlords and Housing Associations are continuing to pursue people for non-payment of rent or bills – despite the Council itself failing to process claims in good time.
Figures recently obtained by the Liberal Democrats reveal clearly the level of crisis. From 1st July to 30th Sept, the Council took an average 62 days – 9 weeks – to process new benefits claims, and 41 days – 6 weeks – where people’s circumstances have changed.
Eighteen months ago under the Liberal Democrats, the figures were 35 days and 17 days.
The Council is also failing to answer calls from people worried the situation. Officers admitted to Liberal Democrats this week that fewer than 1 in 4 calls linked to the issue were answered in 30 seconds, with many abandoned. Lib Dems have asked how many people are hanging up unable to get through, and still await a reply. Meanwhile, official figures show that those visiting the Town Hall to get a response face a 25 minute wait.
With around 7,000 benefit claims made every quarter, about 5,000 individuals and families are likely to still be waiting to hear about their claims this Christmas and New Year.
Liberal Democrat Customer Services spokesperson, Councillor Anna Pedersen, says; “Many people will be worried about how to stave off a landlord knocking on the door or what to do about a Summons for Council Tax or other bills while the Council takes two months or more to deal with their Housing Benefit or Council Tax Benefit claim.”
“How can people budget for Christmas or a financially tight New Year if they don’t know they’ll get the money? They can’t get news about their claim, they get legally pursued, the Council can’t answer the phone to tell them what’s going on most of the time, and if they do go into the Town Hall it’s 25 minutes before they’ll be seen.”
“This situation brings nobody good cheer. Urgent action is needed to sort out this Town Hall inspired crisis, which is bringing misery to thousands.”