Council's bill for overcharging tenants revealed to be around £3.2million

Guest houses Lowestoft

Guest houses remaining in Lowestoft. - Credit: Mick Howes

East Suffolk Council is on the hook for around £3.2million after it overcharged social housing tenants, this newspaper can reveal.

Last week it emerged the authority had been overcharging tenants of around 750 council properties by roughly £11.50 per week since 2014.

In total, this means tenants overpaid on their rent by around £3.2million over the seven-year period. A spokesman for the council did not deny this figure was accurate.

However, much of the figure is owed to the government which picks up part of tenants' rent as housing benefits. The council though doesn't expect to pay all of this money back.

A tenant who has lived in their property for the entirety of the period could stand to be paid back around £4,000.

It is not clear how many individual tenants have been affected by the overcharging, as a number of different tenants may have lived in the properties over the years.

The spokesman said that any tenant affected by the overcharging would be paid back in full.

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"The number one priority is any tenant who is out of pocket," he said.

The issue arose after Waveney District Council – which merged with Suffolk Coastal to form East Suffolk Council – changed the status of too many of its rented properties in the Lowestoft area.

Under a government scheme, the council was allowed to convert properties from social rent to affordable housing rent.

However, more properties were converted than the scheme allowed.

According to government rules, 'social rented' properties are rented out at 50% of the market rate, while 'affordable rented' properties are let out at 70% of the market rate.

Council leader Steve Gallant said the issue had been discovered during a review of the council's work following the setting up East Suffolk Council in 2019.

Leader of East Suffolk Council cllr Steve Gallant

Leader of East Suffolk Council cllr Steve Gallant - Credit: East Suffolk Council

This review was led by the council's new housing chief.

A council spokesman said that since the issue had been discovered a forensic audit of the council's properties had been launched, as well as an investigation into how tenants came to be overcharged.

The council has also referred itself to the Regulator for Social Housing.

A spokesman for the regulator said he was unable to comment on individual cases.

Any current or former East Suffolk Council tenants who believe they may be affected by this can find more information here.