Penny Anderson: Writer’s Housing Benefit Cut After Council Staff ‘Googled’ Her Work

Tuesday 26 June, 2018 Written by  Caroline Wilson, Glasgow Evening Times
Penny Anderson: Writer’s Housing Benefit Cut After Council Staff ‘Googled’ Her Work

A former welfare rights advisor claims she was left homeless after council staff ‘Googled’ her name, saw articles she had written for The Guardian and cut her housing benefit.

Penny Anderson believes a decision by Glasgow City Council to stop her payments was heavily influenced by “misleading” online checks, despite, she says, being eligible for financial aid and supplying proof of income.

Six months of backdated payments were eventually paid out to her last week, more than a year after her housing benefit was cut and “too late,” Penny says, to prevent her being evicted last year from her flat in the Calton area.

Penny, who suffers from Multiple Sclerosis and is a former welfare rights advisor, writes for The Guardian on an occasional, freelance basis and is also an artist.

She believes the decision to cut her benefit may also have been influenced by an exhibition she curated for Glasgow Women’s Library, which she says was unpaid and listed online.

A letter seen by the Evening Times sent by the council’s finance department said Penny’s housing benefit was stopped because she failed to supply a tax return form. The council said it then based its decision on the income detail she had supplied as well as, “information widely available on the internet.”

People on a low income, or who are in receipt of other benefits, can be entitled to claim housing benefit to help with rent costs.

Penny maintains she was open and honest about her paid work and explained there would be a delay in submitting her tax return form because she suffers from Dyscalculia, which a difficulty in numbers but says she supplied all the relevant information in another format. 

She is no longer claiming benefit and living with a friend but is consulting lawyers about her experience. She believes freelance workers, including artists and writers, face additional scrutiny despite the fact work is often voluntary or poorly paid.

Glasgow Council

Image: Glasgow MP, Alison Thewlis.

She said: “Glasgow City Council is claiming I didn’t submit information, when my claim was actually stopped because of online ‘information’ they discovered.

“This is against Google policy, stupid, misleading and just plain wrong. 

“Even when I supplied written evidence of what, if anything Women’s Library and The Guardian paid me, housing benefit still delayed paying me, by which time my landlord considered I couldn’t afford the rent and gave me notice.

“Even on the face of written evidence it took over one year to pay it back.

“There must be hundreds of people in the same situation. I’m articulate, and I was a welfare rights officer, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anyone.”

Glasgow MP Alison Thewlis

Image: Glasgow MP, Alison Thewlis

Penny sought help from Glasgow MP, Alison Thewlis, who said: “Penny approached us in November 2017 for help with a housing benefit issue. 

“I intervened on her behalf and was able to obtain 20 weeks of backdated housing benefit but unfortunately this came too late to prevent her eviction. 

“I would urge any constituents experiencing benefits problems to call my constituency office for help at the earliest opportunity.”

A Glasgow City Council spokeswoman said: “Naturally, we’re glad this matter has been resolved. Benefits are means tested. What a claimant does for a living is irrelevant. 

“It’s what they earn that determines if they are eligible for benefits. 

“It’s important that people experiencing difficulties get in contact at the earliest opportunity so that we can help them.”

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