You still owe us 9p, Tamfourhill’s Alex hears

Alex Johnston with his 9p demand letter.
Alex Johnston with his 9p demand letter.
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In these financially straitened times, it seems that every penny counts.

Alex Johnston knows this more than most – last week he received a letter from the Department of Work and Pensions demanding that he repay a debt of NINE PENCE.

The letter went on to suggest that he could pay the amount at the rate of £3.28 a week.

Alex, from Tamfourhill, decided instead to simply settle the debt with a one-off payment – by handing over a 10p coin at his local Jobcentre.

The outstanding amount related to a social fund loan he received earlier this year when he was unemployed.

Alex has since returned to employment and now works at the Falkirk depot of First Bus as a shunter.

He said: “I couldn’t believe it when I read the letter. It just turned up out of the blue.

“I’ve been back in work for five months. I thought I had long since paid off all that I owed.”

The letter, dated October 26, stated that “we have changed the arrangements we made for you to pay back your social fund payment.

“The total amount you owe is £0.09. You must pay this back. You will have to pay us back at £3.28 a week.

“Your first payment is due within a week of this letter.”

Alex added: “I was more than happy to pay back the money.

“When I went into the Jobcentre, the girl behind the counter asked how I would be paying. I just replied in cash.

“The security guard was bent double with laughter.’’

He continued: “I understand that you can’t just let everyone off with debts.

“But the cost of sending me the letter, as well as the pre-paid envelope it contained, would have been at least four times the amount they were asking for.”

The Department for Work and Pensions is responsible for benefit payments across the UK.

It was announced in September that the department would have to cut its running costs by £2.7 billion by 2015 in order to meet government efficiency measures.

Speaking at the time, Margaret Hodge MP, chairwoman of the public accounts committee, described the cut as “a considerable challenge.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Work and Pensions said: “The social fund loans scheme is partly self funding.

“For this reason we have a duty to recover the full value of any loan provided by the social fund to enable us to help as many people as possible.”