Council defend decision to strip widow of her £28,000 pension fund after she saved over benefits threshold

Mary Morley and son David

Mary Morley and son David - Credit: Archant

The son of an elderly widow, who has had her £28,000 nest egg benefits taken off her, has called the district council “disgusting”.

Mary and her husband Cedric on their wedding day

Mary and her husband Cedric on their wedding day - Credit: Archant

The son of an elderly widow, who has had her £28,000 nest egg benefits taken off her, has called the district council "disgusting".

Mary Morley, 86, who lives in Stibbington, regularly saved a little of her £149.54-a-week state pension, but has now had it taken off her by Huntingdonshire District Council after they said that they "must operate under rules" which only allow those who are retired to save £16,000 of their pension.

Mrs Morley, who worked as a chambermaid before retiring at the age of 65 and has been a widow for 18 years, saved more than the £16,000 allowed by people claiming housing benefit. Now as a result, she has faced court action over council tax arrears.

Her son David said: "My mum has saved her money all of her life, we never really had a lot when we were little and she is of that generation who are very careful with money. Because of what has happened she has plunged into depression overnight. This process is callous, People in their 80's and probably 90's, who may be alone and are vulnerable are targeted.

"My mum saved money from her tiny pension because she was worried that if something happened, she wouldn't have the funds to pay for it. Now she has nothing, all because she was trying to do the right thing.

"This has affected her in a way no-one can imagine. She is frail and is so worried that she has done something wrong."

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Mrs Morley was told in January last year that she had saved £32,000 - double the £16,000 limit - which saw her housing benefit and council tax support both stopped.

She was then told she owed Huntingdonshire District Council more than £12,000 in overpaid benefits. Her family appealed this decision in March 2018, but it was denied after a six-month wait.

David said: "To make things worse, council officials realised because of the appeal that they had made an error in their own calculations, and my mum actually owed £22,000. It really is disgusting."

A further error discovered last October took the total up to £23,000, and after the loss of benefits that year had been included, with the total coming to £28,000.

David has said that he has had to ask for letters of correspondence to go to his house, as it is putting "huge amounts of stress" on her, leaving her feeling like she "wants to go to sleep and never wake up".

"It has put huge stress on my mum, to the point where we had to take her to the doctors and she was prescribed anti-depressants. How can the council do this to an elderly lady. She feels immense guilt, for what? She was doing what she thought was right. Central government encourage the older generation to save, in this case my mum would have been better off if she had burnt the money," said David.

David told The Hunts Post how Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) monitors the bank accounts of those who are receiving benefits to see if there is anything suspicious. In this case, they visited Mrs Morely at her home, and left her feeling "like she had done something wrong".

David said: "My mum was terrified after that visit. She really was. The person had explained to her how she could go to court if she wasn't doing what is asked of her. After that, the DWP passed on the case to the district council. They then went to the courts to get a Third Party Debt Order, to take the money out of her account. In total they have taken back at least £18,000 and they are ordering that a further £10,000 will be paid back too. It has left my mum feeling scared and very vulnerable."

A spokesman for Huntingdonshire District Council said: "The case of Mrs Morley was brought to the attention of the council by a Department of Work & Pensions (DWP) investigation which highlighted financial irregularities and, therefore, overpaid benefits. Whilst we understand and sympathise with the stressful and delicate nature of Mrs Morley's situation, we must continue our statutory duty to recover funds overpaid in order to correctly allocate public funds to people who meet the strict eligibility requirements.

Huntingdonshire District Council holds a great responsibility to ensure that public funds are being utilised in an effective and appropriate manner. The distribution of benefit money is governed by a very stringent set of regulations which ensures that funding can be received by those who most require support. The regulations are set out by the Government and all local authorities must operate by these rules in order to appropriately utilise public funds within our support system.

The council wish to stress that the decision to take legal action to recover the funds was not one that was taken lightly."