A PENSIONER who opened a letter to her husband from City of York Council was stunned to read: “Please accept my condolences on your recent bereavement.”

The letter to Raymond Russell went on to say the authority would have to look at his claim for housing/council tax benefit again, as his income and capital might now have changed.

His wife, Kathleen, 79, of Clifton, who opened the letter because her husband is poorly and in a care home, said she almost fell to the floor in shock when she read it. “I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “I didn’t know what to think. I was very upset.”

Her son, Stuart said: “It’s unbelievable. They apologised and said it was human error, but I think there is something wrong with the system if this can happen. It’s so out of order. I don’t know what they are playing at.”

Another son, David, said the additional upset was the last thing the family needed, as it had already been struggling to deal with his father’s illness.

It is understood Mrs Russell may have been confused with another pensioner called Kathleen Russell, who was 91, of Connaught Court, Fulford, and who died recently. Her son, John said: “How they came to do something so stupid is beyond me.”

Pauline Stuchfield, the council’s assistant director of customer and business support services, said officers had met Stuart Russell to offer their sincere apologies on behalf of the benefits service for the distress and upset caused to his mother, him and his family, as a result of the letter that had been sent in error.

“While our apology does not change what happened, we have taken immediate actions to ensure that this does not happen again,” she said.

A council spokeswoman said staff at the benefits service had sent a bouquet of flowers to Mrs Russell by way of apology.

She said staff used information from the registrar, double checking such records prior to sending any letter for printing to ensure the entry on the registrar’s list and the system record was the same. “We have reiterated this important instruction again to all benefits staff and will be following this up at staff meetings and in manager one-to-one’s.”