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‘We’ve been through our darkest period’ - Norwich City Council’s benefits backlog leaves hundreds waiting more than three months for help

PUBLISHED: 07:00 07 December 2012 | UPDATED: 07:16 07 December 2012

Lucy Galvin, Wensum Green Party city councillor

Lucy Galvin, Wensum Green Party city councillor

Archant

A benefits backlog which left hundreds of people waiting at least three months for urgent cash help is emerging from its “darkest period”, it was claimed last night.

Norwich City Council has been criticised for making life difficult for people by failing to deal with hundreds of new benefit claims within its target time of 21 days.

Figures analysing the time taken to process around 4,500 new claims between July and November show more than 1,500 were dealt with in 20 days, or 34pc. But 66pc took longer, with more than 500 taking 71 to 80 days and a similar number more than 90.

Lucy Galvin, Wensum Green Party councillor, told last night’s scrutiny committee meeting: “It’s four times longer than the target. The Citizens Advice Bureau told me of a few effects that has on people in Norwich. One person had to borrow from friends to pay rent for three months.

“One person built huge debts to the council as they had overpaid – they told the council of a change of circumstances six months before but they went on paying too much money.

“Another was told by council officers the only way to speed up their claim beyond waiting three months was to get served notice to quit through their landlord, which was a stressful thing to go through.”

Officials say they hope to reduce the wait before Christmas and be in a “good position” by next April. The latest data shows the average number of days to process a claim has fallen from 47 in September to 34.76 in November.

Councillors were also told the aim is to organise more face-to-face meetings with people needing support, to speed up claims.

Anton Bull, the council’s executive head of business relationship management, said: “We’ve been through our darkest period. The percentage of claims now dealt within 21 days is steadily increasing.

“We are well aware of the impact it has on people. If we can get the processes working and right first time, we can process half or a quarter of claims in one or two days.”

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