By Kirsty Topping
PRISONERS are claiming thousands of pounds in housing benefit, despite not being entitled to it.
The allowance is only supposed to be paid to criminals serving a sentence of 13 weeks or less but misinterpretation of the rules means that those with longer sentences are being given the money as well.
At a maximum of 400 a week it means prisoners may be being given as much as 5200.
The staggering information was discovered by debtadvisorsworking in prisons.
Andrew Hamilton, of the Community Law Service, said:
“Housing benefit should only be paid to prisoners if their period of absence from home, meaning their time in prison, is unlikely to exceed 13 weeks.’If they are likely to be in prison for more than 13 weeks it should stop from the date they enter prison.
“But I know some local authorities get it wrong and will pay for the first 13 weeks of the sentence no matter how long the person is going to be inside.
Christopher Stacey, of ex-offenders charity Unlock, said he had also found cases of councils getting it wrong.
“The provisions are quite clear and it’s unacceptable that councils are misunderstanding them.
“But it works both ways.
“We recently had a case of a council trying to recover housing benefit from a prisoner on remand even though it was clear he was entitled to it. “
There are no figures available to show just how may councils have botched the administration of payments to criminals or how much they have paid out in total.
Emma Boon of the Taxpayer’s Alliance said:
“It’s madness that money is being wasted from wrongly handing out benefits to convicts already behind bars at taxpayer’s expense.
“The Government needs to improve communication between departments so that the laft hand knows what the right hand is doing. “
A spokesman for the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) said:
“Local authorities administer housing benefit including manageing the security of the system.
“The DWP reimburses them for the money they pay, but we don’t if it’s found that the benefit was paid out fraudulently.
“It’s in the local authorities interests to ensure they only pay benefits to those who are entitles to it. “
Housing benefit is designed to help people pay rent and while rules previously allowed claimants to receive huge payments to cover the cost of living in vast private properties a cap has now been put in place to keep the maximum payable to 400 per week.
Those living in a house with four bedrooms or more can claim the maximum, while someone in a one bedroom flat can claim a maximum of 250 a week.