Former chambermaid Mary Morley, 86, lives in Stibbington, Cambridgeshire
An elderly widow with learning difficulties has been left almost penniless after a council stripped her of her £28,000 nest egg in a benefits row.
Mary Morley, 86, who lives in the Cambridgeshire village of Stibbington, regularly saved a little of her £149.54-a-week state pension to avoid burdening her family after retiring aged 65 in 1989.
But the former chambermaid unwittingly saved more than the £16,000 allowed by people claiming housing benefit – and the council are now taking it back.
Mrs Morley, who has carers visit twice a day and has been a widow for 18 years since her husband died, has also faced court action over council tax arrears.
Her son David, 60, told the Daily Express: ‘My mum has scrimped and saved all her life. She was plunged into depression overnight.
‘The process by which this is done is unbelievably callous. People in their 80s and 90s, probably alone and with health problems, are targeted.
‘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.’
Mrs Morley has carers visit twice a day and has been a widow since her husband died in 2001
Mrs Morley’s son David, 60, has been angered by how the council has treated his mother
Mrs Morley, pictured with husband Cedric on their wedding day, has been a widow for 18 years
Mr Morley has been angered by how officials at Huntingdonshire District Council have treated his mother, who was declared illiterate aged 14 when she left school.
Mrs Morley was told in January last year that she had saved £32,000 – double the limit – which led to her housing benefit and council tax support being stopped.
She was told she owed the council more than £12,000 in overpaid benefits. Her family appealed in March 2018, but this was denied after a six-month wait.
To make things worse, council officials realised in the appeal that they had made an error in their own calculations, and Mrs Morley actually owed them £22,000.
Mary Morley, 86, has lived in a bungalow on this road in Stibbington, Cambridgeshire
The family have lost a battle with Huntingdonshire District Council, whose offices are pictured
Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb said the council had been ‘totally inhumane’
A further error discovered last October took the total up to £23,000, and after the loss of benefit that year had been included, the grand total came to £28,000.
How can pensioners be punished for saving too much? Housing benefit rules limit nest eggs to £16k
Savings over £16,000 usually mean people will not be able to get housing benefit. But the limit does not apply if the person or their partner receives pension credit guarantee.
Savings over £6,000, or £10,000 for pensioners, will usually affect how much housing benefit they can get.
When under the cut-off age for working age housing benefit, capital between £6,000 and £16,000 is taken into account at a tariff income of £1 per week for each £250 (or part of £250) of capital over £6,000.
When over the cut-off age, capital between £10,000 and £16,000 is taken into account at a tariff income of £1 per week for each £500 (or part of £500) of capital over £10,000.
The state pension age for women increased from 60 to 65 in the period up to April 2018.
The age for men and women will increase from 65 to 66 between April 2018 and October 2020, and to 67 between 2026 and 2028.
Mrs Morley is now set to be taken to court over her council tax arrears, despite her having no money to pay because the council has confiscated her savings.
Ex-pensions minister Sir Steve Webb said the council had been ‘totally inhumane’, adding: ‘Where is the council’s sympathetic approach to vulnerable residents?’
A Huntingdonshire District Council spokesman 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.’
Administering housing benefit is the local council’s responsibility, although the DWP has a legal obligation to pass on information about claimants.
A DWP spokesman told MailOnline: ‘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.’