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Widower's fury at benefits blunders

PUBLISHED: 12:05 12 June 2009 | UPDATED: 16:15 07 September 2010

Brian Whittaker

Brian Whittaker

Sanchez Manning A BEREAVED husband has been left devastated by a series of mistaken demands for money supposedly owed by his dead wife. Brian Whittaker, 68, of Cherwell House, Church Street, lost Sylvia, his partner of 45 years, after she suffered a heart

Sanchez Manning

A BEREAVED husband has been left devastated by a series of mistaken demands for money supposedly owed by his dead wife.

Brian Whittaker, 68, of Cherwell House, Church Street, lost Sylvia, his partner of 45 years, after she suffered a heart attack in April.

Just 10 days later on April 27, the day of her funeral, a letter arrived from Westminster Council asking for his wife's forwarding address to re-calculate her disability benefit on the basis that she had moved out.

Mr Whittaker said he was absolutely distraught to receive such a misguided enquiry - especially considering he had already informed government officials that Sylvia, 63, had died.

"I was completely gutted when I got the letter. I couldn't stop crying," he said. "I phoned them and said I wanted a full apology and that this is no way to treat people."

A council officer responded to Mr Whittaker's angry protests with a correspondence that read: "I apologise for any distress and upset this letter may have caused. Please accept our condolences.

"We have received all the information we require to assess your claim from the pensions services, so you don't need to provide us with any further information."

But within two days Mr Whittaker was sent another letter, from the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), threatening to take action if he failed to pay £96.20 owed by his wife.

The retired butcher said this second slip-up was even more shocking considering he had already returned a £400 cheque for Sylvia's final disability allowance.

They, in turn, returned £280 that was rightfully his wife's money and the £96.20 demanded was the remainder of the £400 he had already paid.

Mr Whittaker immediately called the DWP to alert them of their error, but said he still received two more calls asking for the money before the department conceded its mistake.

He added: "There was obviously no communication at all between the council and the Government. I'm still young enough to take something like this but if it happened to someone in their 80s the consequences could have been much worse."

Cllr Melvyn Caplan, Westminster Council's cabinet member for finance, said the Government was largely to blame for the bungle.

He said: "The information received from the DWP at the time only highlighted a change in benefit and household details, but made no indication to what had happened. Had we been advised of the full facts, we would not have written to Mr Whittaker and we are sorry for the distress caused by sending this letter at an inappropriate time."

A spokeswoman for the Department of Work and Pensions said a letter of apology had been sent to Mr Whittaker last month, but he denies ever receiving it.

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