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Waveney council services could be under threat

PUBLISHED: 07:58 05 June 2009 | UPDATED: 09:56 06 July 2010

Taxpayers in Waveney are facing an anxious wait to see if services in the district will be threatened by a £9m bill from the government.

Officers at Waveney District Council have been working round the clock to produce evidence to prove that the authority did not overpay millions of pounds in benefits to residents.

Taxpayers in Waveney are facing an anxious wait to see if services in the district will be threatened by a £9m bill from the government.

Officers at Waveney District Council have been working round the clock to produce evidence to prove that the authority did not overpay millions of pounds in benefits to residents.

The deadline to send its dossier to the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) passed this week and the council is now in the hands of government officials, who must decide whether to scrap the demand or reduce it.

A looming financial crisis at Waveney emerged in March when the council revealed it had received a bill for £8.9m from the DWP, with the potential for a further demand of £900,000 in the future.

With the additional need to find up to £3.4m for urgent repairs at Southwold harbour, the council has been faced with a potential £13.2m financial bombshell and a desperate battle to protect frontline services.

The DWP demand centres on the fact that the council, which distributes benefits on its behalf, has been unable to account for the payments made to residents.

However, the council insisted it had not overpaid funds and the discrepancy was down to transferring data from paper to computer during 2005/06.

A Waveney District Council spokesman said: “The deadline has passed and a number of officers have been working round the clock to collate and provide the evidence that we believe will assist the DWP with any further deliberations. We are satisfied that, at this stage, we have done all we can and we now wait for a formal response from the DWP to our submissions. We hope the matter can be resolved as soon as possible.”

The council brought in a new benefits management team following the problems, but Waveney MP Bob Blizzard has been critical of the council's political leadership.

Last night, he revealed he was waiting to meet benefits minister Kitty Ussher to try to head off a financial crisis in his constituency.

Mr Blizzard said: “The DWP has come up with this very large figure and I want it to check the calculations. The first hope is that it is a miscalculation and it all goes away.

“If after the recalculation the DWP decides Waveney District Council owes the government money, then I have already said to the minister that I will ask the Labour government to bail out the Tory council in order to protect the taxpayer from the consequences of what would be a monumental piece of mismanagement.”

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