Three staff missed decimal error which led to more than 500 people being overcharged - some by thousands of pounds

File photo dated 03/07/18 of money. Nearly a third of people who began claiming Universal Credit (UC

A misplaced decimal place saw more than 530 people overcharged by Havering Council. - Credit: PA Images

Three members of Havering Council staff failed to spot a misplaced decimal which resulted in around 530 people being overcharged for music lessons. 

The error, which stemmed from a software update to Havering Council’s accounting system, saw fees for music lessons multiplied by 100

One individual told the Recorder she was notified by her bank when the council requested £3,952 from her account, rather than the usual £39.52.  

Havering Council apologised “unreservedly” for the mistake and promised to cover the full amount, as well as any bank charges incurred as a result of the error. 

An audit committee meeting on October 28 heard how, despite being seen by three staff members, the error went undetected between the software update on July 23 and the processing of the direct debits ten days later. 

At the meeting, Cllr Roger Ramsey described it as “quite a serious situation from a reputational point of view”. 

Jeremy Welburn, head of assurance, told the committee: “It’s a significant point to note that there were issues, human error if you like, but it was within two distinct areas, ICT and transactional services. 

“The control environment was there; it just wasn’t applied appropriately in this case.” 

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Cllr Martin Goode, chair of the committee, said he was looking forward to a full report. 

A summary of the incident in a report given to councillors reads: “Whilst the internal audit review undertaken does not seek to apportion blame to individual officers, it is clear that due care and attention has not been paid at key stages in this process.” 

Havering Council has not responded to repeated requests from the local democracy reporting service over how much money in total was withdrawn from people’s accounts. 

One Upminster mother, who did not want to be named, claimed at the time that some people had been charged as much as £8,000. 

A spokesperson for Havering Council said: “We apologise unreservedly for this. As soon as we became aware of the issue we made contact with banks so they can support customers and are contacting each affected resident."

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