Dogged benefits case worker wins huge sum for residents
A Yorkshire Housing worker was honoured for winning nearly a quarter of a million pounds in benefits back for elderly residents.
Benefits and money advisor Derri Reynolds was joint runner-up at the housing association’s annual Chief Executive’s Awards earlier this month.
She was nominated for securing more than £223,000 in underpaid housing benefit for 35 care home residents in North Yorkshire aged from their late 70s to early 90s.
And it all began from just one case that prompted inquisitive Derri to launch a wider probe.
Starting in September last year, she investigated and proved how the man’s housing benefit had been wrongly calculated.
But Derri wondered if this mistake affected others – and found many more cases in a review of housing benefit claimants.
It led to an initial rebate of nearly £59,000, but persistent Derri pursued the matter to get it backdated.
The final figure came to more than £223,000, with one tenant receiving nearly £14,000.
Derri said of her award: “I’m very happy to have been chosen and feel very privileged because there’s a lot of other staff who deserve it as well.”
She paid tribute to her colleagues and added: “The team I work with, the neighbourhood officers, the income officers, the people doing the referring, are all imperative.
“I can’t just go out and find these cases. We work collectively, and I’m very lucky to work in such an amazing team.”
In Derri’s initial investigation, she found service charges for food were being treated as ineligible for housing benefit.
Regulations state a flat rate of £18.05 should apply when a service charge for food is applicable.
Anything above that should be treated as eligible for housing benefit purposes.
But the full amount, £57.75, was regarded as ineligible.
It was agreed to correct this and backdate it to April 2017, meaning residents could have received £58,986.37 in total.
The average payment would have been £1,900 per customer.
But Derri pursued the matter further to get the payments backdated to the point in 2015 when the error first occurred.
This led to the final figure of £223,004.74 and an average payout of £7,000 per customer.
Derri said: “Because this was an official error, it didn’t affect any current entitlement that they had.
“I sent letters out to those people affected to explain that as it can be quite frightening for older people to get a lump sum like that.”
Cleaner Peggy Harland won the Chief Executive’s Award for running a film club as a volunteer.
Derri was joint runner up with anti-social behaviour officer Lesley Drake at an event held at the Quebecs Hotel in Leeds on June 5.
It was organised to crown an overall winner from those who had been honoured in the 2018-19 year.
Yorkshire Housing chief executive Nick Atkin said of Derri: “She’s got that resilience and determination that’s so key to that role.
“It’s a balance of providing help and support at the time, often when people are at a point of crisis, but also seeing the bigger picture.
“Here, she thought there wasn’t just one issue, but an issue that could affect the whole scheme.
“And as a result, she brought in additional income that was life-changing for those tenants.”