Council takes 86yo’s $50k nest egg
An 86-year-old widow has been left "penniless" after her local council took away her $50,000 life savings - because she had been tucking away too much of her pension.
But the former chambermaid had been receiving a means-tested housing benefit that was prohibited for pensioners with more than £16,000 ($28,320) in savings. According to her son David, his mother's savings crossed this threshold some time in 2010 without her even knowing.
Last year, after being fed information from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Huntingdonshire District Council began dragging her through the courts to claw back £23,000 ($40,710) in overpaid benefits.
With the loss of the benefit for that year as well, the total hit to Ms Morley was £28,000 ($49,560), virtually her entire nest egg of £32,000 ($56,640). She is now also being dragged through the courts over unpaid council tax - but she has no money to pay because the council has confiscated her savings.
"My mum has scrimped and saved all her life," Mr Morley told The Express. "Had my mother burned £50 a month for 20 years, rather than saving it, she would, quite literally, have been far better off.
"At the age of 86, she has been left penniless and indebted. She was plunged into depression overnight and has lost the independence that she has guarded so fiercely until now. The process by which this is done is unbelievably callous. People in their 80s and 90s, probably alone and with health problems, are targeted.
"It's happening to these people because, in spite of their tiny pension, they have managed to save a little week after week. But by doing so, they have crossed the savings limit for claiming Housing Benefit and Council Tax Support, most likely without even realising."
A freedom of information request filed by Mr Morley revealed the Huntingdonshire District Council had tracked down 27 people over the past five years whose savings were allegedly too high.
A council spokeswoman told The Express Mrs Morley's case was brought to its attention "by a 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," she said.
"The distribution of benefit money is governed by a 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."