Frustration builds over payments backlog

FRUSTRATION over delayed payments has today led to one Ipswich letting agent turning away housing benefit claimants.Richard Hawkins, who runs his own business from Northgate Street, said he is taking the drastic action because he was furious over having to chase Ipswich Borough Council over a backlog of claims.

FRUSTRATION over delayed payments has today led to one Ipswich letting agent turning away housing benefit claimants.

Richard Hawkins, who runs his own business from Northgate Street, said he is taking the drastic action because he was furious over having to chase Ipswich Borough Council over a backlog of claims.

He was also appalled the council was having to outsource the payment system to overcome problems with new computer software installed during the first half of last year.

Mr Hawkins said: “It's a disgrace quite frankly. The council installed a new computer system some months ago and since then they have been in a muddle. There is a huge backlog of claims. They are now so inundated with backdated claims they are sending them off to another contractor.

“It makes letting agents less reluctant to take tenants on housing benefit. I'm seriously disappointed with it. It causes us a lot of time and annoyance trying to claim the money back and we are now not taking any tenant who is on housing benefit. My clients are not prepared to wait three months for their rent.”

Mr Hawkins added he is still chasing the council for rent for some of the properties on his books even though the tenants have moved on.

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Other letting agents in the town said they were aware of the problems. However, they have stopped short of taking the action Mr Hawkins has.

Responding to his criticisms and refusal to take tenants on housing benefit, Ipswich Borough Council leader Liz Harsant said: “We are saddened by this move as it will hit those in need the hardest but we do understand people's frustrations.

“The council is using government funding to employ a contractor to help clear the backlog of claims as quickly as possible and we hope this process will be completed by the end of February.

“The computer system, which we are in the process of upgrading, is improving steadily and we are doing everything we can to ease the situation.

“We do give priority to private tenants' claims because we recognise their position can be the most difficult. One thing we would also like to see is a simpler application system; surely, making forms easier to understand, fill in and process would be in everyone's interests.”

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