Elderly widow stripped of £28k nest egg by council for saving too much
An elderly widow with learning difficulties has been left almost penniless after a council stripped her of her £28,000 nest egg - because she had saved too much.
Mary Morley (86) regularly saved a little bit of her £149.54 state pension every week after she retired at the age of 65 in 1989.
However, the former chambermaid fell victim to a scheme which sees elderly people on low incomes stripped of their nest eggs by councils fed information from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
Because she had unwittingly saved more than the £16,000 allowed by people claiming housing benefit the council are now taking it back from her.
Mary, from Stibbington, who does not drink, smoke or own a television, has been living alone since her husband Cedric died in 2001.
And last year officials from Huntingdonshire District Council (HDC) began the process of taking the money back taking Mary, who has carers twice a day, to the courts.
Since then Mary has been dragged through the courts, but she has no money to pay because HDC has confiscated her savings.
Her son, David Morley (60) said his mum has “scrimped and saved all her life” and was “plunged” into depression overnight due to being stripped of her cash.
He said she “lost the independence that she has guarded so fiercely until now” in this “unbelievably callous” process.
David added: “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.”
Mary, who was branded illiterate after leaving school at 14, was told in January last year that she had saved £32,000.
Because of this, her housing benefit and council tax support payments were stopped and the council claimed she owed more than £12,000 in overpaid benefits.
Mary’s family appealed in her behalf, which took six months, but the council denied the claim.
Instead, and only because of the appeal, they found an error in their own calculation and in addition to the original claim of £12,000, they now asked for an extra £10,000.
Another error was found in October which took it up to £23,000, and with the loss of benefit that year the total was £28,000 - almost everything Mary had.
David said: “In my mother’s case all her savings have been taken by the local authority.
“At the age of 86 she has been left penniless and indebted.
“This has been going on for a year-and-a-half and she has been reduced to the humiliating position of asking for help from the very local authority that stripped her of her life savings.”
A spokesman for HDC said: “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.
“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.”
A DWP spokesman said: “Councils pay and administer housing benefit and council tax support, providing an important safety net.
“Those with more than £16,000 in savings may be ineligible for certain means-tested benefits.”