Malcolm Burge was left owing more than £800 to Newham council in London, after backlog in implementing government changes to welfare.{jcomments on}

A retired gardener took his own life after a change in the benefits system that left him owing more than £800 to his local council in London, an inquest has heard.

Newham council admitted a failure to deal with Malcolm Burge’s benefit issue because of the backlog of cases after the change.

Burge, 66, who lived in a lodge at the City of London cemetery, wrote to the council telling them he was “depressed, stressed and suicidal”, saying: “I have no savings or assets. I am not trying to live, I am trying to survive.”

Shortly afterwards, he drove to Cheddar Gorge in Somerset, where he killed himself in his car. Speaking after his inquest at Bridgwater, Somerset, his sister, Carol Higdon, said: “He was a very quiet and proud man. We knew nothing about all this until after his death.”

Burge began claiming benefits when he became a carer to his father. He left his job as a gardener at the cemetery and became entitled to housing benefit, council tax benefit and a state and work pension.

Government alterations to welfare policy in January 2013 meant Burge’s weekly housing benefit, paid by Newham borough council, should have been cut from £89.39 to £44.75.

This was not implemented owing to a “backlog” at the authority and Burge continued to receive the higher amount.

The pensioner, who did not realise he should have received less, was horrified when the authority issued a demand for an £809.79 overpayment.

Full story in the Guardian


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