Midhurst resident among thousands with shock bills after IT error

Peter Chislett who was given the wrong bill by the local council.''C120077-1 Mid Computer Blip  Photo Louise Adams
Peter Chislett who was given the wrong bill by the local council.''C120077-1 Mid Computer Blip Photo Louise Adams

A council computer error has left vulnerable and elderly people facing shock care service bills for hundreds of pounds.

The error meant bills sent to people who rely on outside care were lower than they should have been and now West Sussex County Council is asking them to make up the shortfall.

A total of 510 people have received the unexpected bills which amount to an estimated £480,000 in outstanding customer charges.

Among them is Midhurst resident, Peter Chislett, a 68-year-old multiple sclerosis sufferer who received an unexpected bill for £937.44 this week.

Mr Chislett, who is confined to a wheelchair and has a live-in carer at his Oxford Court home, said: “It was a shock. I live on a pretty tight budget and I don’t have that amount of money in my hand. I will have to negotiate to pay it off at a low rate over a period of time.”

And he told the Observer: “This is the county council’s fault and they should be paying for it themselves.”

He is also angry that the error has been explained simply as a computer glitch with no individual taking blame.

“The former north of England newspaper editor said: “I spent much of my working life as a journalist, kicking hell out of local authorities and it has always been a suspicion of mine that when they invoke ‘computer errors’ it’s a bit of a smoke screen because there is no person taking responsibility. It can all be blamed on a computer so there is no person or department which is responsible for it – it is just too easy to blame a computer glitch.”

Mr Chislett lives in an adapted Hyde Martlet home with a full-time carer and pays a monthly contribution towards the cost of his care.

He said the first he knew of the computer error was when he received a letter from the county council’s financial services department in November admitting there had been problems with a new computer system.

He was told he could be one of the people who had not been appropriately charged for their service since July last year.

“When I telephoned to ask what was going to happen they told me it was almost certain it would not involve any extra cost to me and the next thing I knew, I received the bill.”