County Durham housing benefit delays hit customers

People relying on housing benefit in County Durham are being hit by a backlog in processing payments.

Durham County Council has admitted the average time to process claims has slipped from three to eight weeks.

The Citizens Advice Bureau said the delays were causing people a lot of hardship.

The council said the delays were down to a new computer system being introduced to merge seven systems into one.

One of those affected, Steve Cousins, from Bishop Auckland, said he had stopped receiving payments about 10 weeks ago.

He said: "There is considerable stress just trying to find the money each month to pay the rent."

'Widespread problem'

Chief executive at East Durham Citizen's Advice Bureau Neil Bradbury said they had spoken to some people who were waiting four to five months.

He said: "It's a widespread problem. It's a problem we've seen increasingly over the last few months and the last year."

He urged people who were struggling to seek help.

Council corporate director for resources Don McLure apologised for the delay to payments.

He said the need to merge the computer system came after the forming of the unitary council in April 2009 and the end of the seven district councils.

The council pays housing benefit to 67,000 people.

The original date for going live was July but that has now been put back to December.

He said: "The performance in our service has definitely slipped."

Mr McClure said if there were exceptional circumstances and people were facing financial problems because of the delay they should contact the council.

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