Great-gran ordered to pay back 7p council tax benefit

Elsie Gallagher with the council tax demand for 7p
Elsie Gallagher with the council tax demand for 7p
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A GREAT-GRANDMOTHER has been ordered to fork out a decade-old council tax overpayment – of 7p.

Elsie Gallagher was shocked to receive a letter from Durham County Council demanding repayment of the amount, which it claimed she had been wrongly given in benefits in 1999/2000.

The 82-year-old widow, of Horden, was upset and angry at the unexpected bill from the cash-strapped authority, which faces axing 1,600 jobs due to funding cuts.

“It’s ridiculous,” she said. “To think they’ve spent the time and money to print the letter, put it in an envelope and post it, all for 7p.

“I think this country must be in dire straits if they’re having to scrape together a few pennies here and there.”

She added: “It makes you want to cry. They’re making cuts right, left and centre.

“Selling forests, closing libraries – yet many children cannot afford computers. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Mrs Gallagher, whose husband Edward died from cancer in 1997, has lived in the same house in the East Durham village since 1951.

She received the letter on Friday. It said the overpayment – which it calculated to a weekly rate of £0.000189 – was due to a change in circumstances.

“I couldn’t make head nor tail of it at first,” said the great-grandmother-of-nine.

“It appears they made a mistake, but I can’t believe it’s still legal to claim back something from so long ago.

“And I didn’t like the wording on the back about criminal procedures.”

The letter, from the council offices in Easington Colliery, said the 7p would be added to Mrs Gallagher’s council tax bill – and she would receive ANOTHER letter telling her how much was now owing in total.

Durham County Council today said it would cancel the extra payment.

Head of Finance Jeff Garfoot said: “This bill shouldn’t have been sent out and we apologise for any inconvenience caused.

“This bill slipped through the net due to a computer error. Normally we wouldn’t ask for payment of a debt like this.”

Mrs Gallagher said: “What a farce.”