Derry is millions of pounds in debt to the Social Fund. And some local people are now getting surprise bills for loans taken out years ago.
The Department for Social Development confirmed that outstanding Social Fund loans from Social Services in Omagh, Enniskillen, Derry, Strabane, and Lisnagelvin amount to £18,252,674.
The Social Fund scheme has been part of the Social Security benefit system since 1988 and is designed to help people on very low incomes manage large or unexpected expenditures and cope with emergencies.
The DSD spokesperson confirmed in 2010, close to £76m was paid out across the North under the scheme.
The total amount of Social Fund debt outstanding at July 2011, was £89,963,682.
No breakdown of the debt by individual office was available.
The Journal requested the information after readers contacted the paper reporting ‘the Dole’ had requested repayment of long outstanding loans.
In the first case one woman received a letter asking for payment of almost £200 borrowed some 18 years ago.
“I had no idea what it was about. I haven’t been on the dole for years,” said the professional.
“I asked them what I borrowed the sum for and they said ‘a pram’. My daughter is 19 now!”
Another letter dealing with a debt of £262 taken out in 2002 was received by a second caller. “Apparently the money was for a cooker,” he said.
Neither reader wished to be identified.
A spokesperson for the DSD denied there was a renewed emphasis or campaign on collecting debts owed to the Social Fund.
“The Agency has a statutory duty to protect public funds and to recover, where possible, amounts of social security benefits overpaid as a result of customer fraud and error and to seek repayment of Social Fund loans.
“Where the customer fails to respond to all contact from the Agency, or make and keep an acceptable agreement, it may consider referring the debt to a private debt collection agency or take civil proceedings through the courts.”
The vast majority of Social Fund loan recoveries are handled by the Agency directly without the involvement of third parties.
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