This is how much Hartlepool council has forked out in emergency housing payments to people hit by welfare reforms

Hartlepool Borough Council had to pay out £410,000 last year to help people who struggled with housing costs because of welfare reforms.

By Sarah Wilson
Monday, 12 August, 2019, 06:00
Each year, the Government allocates a set amount of funding to each local authority for Discretionary Housing Payments.

Housing charity Shelter said the payments could be vital to stop people losing their homes, but were a "quick fix" for a flawed housing system.

Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show Hartlepool Borough Council paid £453,600 in Discretionary Housing Payments to claimants in 2018-19.

Discretionary Housing Payments are given to people who qualify for either Housing Benefit or the housing element of the new Universal Credit, and who are struggling with housing costs.

Last year, Hartlepool Borough Council spent all of its government allocation.

Of the total awarded in Hartlepool, £410,200 went to helping people who were experiencing difficulties because of reforms in the welfare system

.

The main cause of financial hardship was the so-called bedroom tax, which reduces housing benefits for people with a spare bedroom, accounting for £193,800 of the total.

A further £193,800 went to people affected by the so-called bedroom tax, which reduces housing benefits for people with a spare bedroom, and £97,400 because of other welfare reforms, or a combination of the bedroom tax and benefit cap.

In total, 1,712 payments were made to claimants during the year, averaging £265 a piece.

Public services think tank Reform warned that local authorities were having to plug the gaps in national welfare spending – despite their budgets being hit hard under austerity.

Each year, the Government allocates a set amount of funding to each local authority for Discretionary Housing Payments.

If an authority needs to spend more than this, however, it must dip into its own funds. Last year, Hartlepool Borough Council spent all of its government allocation.

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Across England and Wales, councils paid out almost £151 million during the course of the year, and one in three councils had to spend more than the amount they got from government.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "Discretionary Housing Payments are vital in many cases and can be the difference between people losing their home or not – but they shouldn’t be a replacement for a fit-for-purpose welfare system.

“These payments shouldn’t be needed so much in the first place – they’re simply a quick fix to structural problems.

“To solve the underlying crisis for good, the Government must commit to building 3.1 million social homes in the next 20 years, as well as making sure housing benefit is enough to actually cover rents.”

A DWP spokeswoman said the Government spent £23 billion a year helping people in the UK with their housing costs.

She added: "Since 2011, we have provided local authorities with over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payments to protect the most vulnerable claimants.

"The allocation of this funding ensures a fair distribution across local authority areas, and is reviewed each year."

Councillor Shane Moore, Leader of Hartlepool Borough Council, said: “The Council is committed to spending each financial year its full allocation of Discretionary Housing Payment funding from the Department for Work and Pensions and we make sure that it reaches those who are most in need.

“However, not only is it vital to ensure that people receive help to meet their housing costs when facing financial hardship, the root causes also need to be tackled, and that means making sure that there are sufficient affordable, decent homes for people to live in.

“It would be easy for us to say that the Government needs to commit to building more social housing, but I would argue that actually it’s local authorities which need to use the tools now available to them and drive this agenda forward. We know the housing needs of our residents better than anyone so let’s get out there and start building good quality council homes again that people can actually afford - but to do that, councils need the Government to give them the investment they need to release land and build.

“Since 2010, Hartlepool Borough Council has already created 293 Council-owned social housing units - one of the fastest rates in the country – but we realise that that is a drop in the ocean and I am absolutely committed to using every avenue open to me to achieve our goal of building many more.”