Hackney Council services to be disrupted ‘for some time’

Inability to make housing benefit payments is likely to sting some tenants as Hackney cyber attack drags on

Alex Scroxton

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Published: 20 Oct 2020 16:57

Key Hackney Council services remain unavailable a week after its systems were hit by a cyber attack and are likely to remain “disrupted for some time”, potentially leaving tenants of rented accommodation at risk of eviction and homelessness.

The attack, which is being probed by the National Cyber Security Centre and the Information Commissioner’s Office, began on or around 13 October.

The precise nature of the incident has not been disclosed – ostensibly to avoid assisting the attackers further – but it bears the hallmarks of a ransomware attack.

In its most recent statement, Hackney Council said: “Council staff are working hard to restore services, protect data and investigate the attack.

“Residents and businesses are asked to avoid contacting us unless absolutely necessary – but our phone lines remain open for essential help and advice and emergency support.”

At the time of writing, the council was unable to accept new applications to join its housing waiting list, for housing benefit, or for its council tax reduction scheme, although emergency homelessness advice and support remains available.

It is also unable to accept rent and service charge, council tax and business rate payments, although anyone making a payment via direct debit is unaffected.

In terms of outgoing payments, the council currently cannot make discretionary housing payments, supplier payments or housing benefit.

Housing benefit is designed to help tenants pay their rent if they are unemployed, on low income or claiming benefits.

It is currently in the process of being replaced by Universal Credit, but many renters in Hackney are thought to still be claiming it and although the council is waiving penalties for people unable to make a payment if all payment options are unavailable, the same options are not necessarily available to tenants of private landlords in the borough.

A Hackney Council spokesperson declined to comment further on the incident at this stage.

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