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£12 million in discretionary housing payments unused by local authorities - figures

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£12 million in discretionary housing payments unused by local authorities - figures

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Published by Jon Land for 24dash.com in Housing and also in Bill Payments, Local Government

Discretionary housing payments totalling 12 million unused by local authorities - figures Discretionary housing payments totalling 12 million unused by local authorities - figures

By Neil Merrick

Local authorities failed to spend more than £12 million last year that was earmarked by the government for families struggling to pay rent and other housing costs, new figures have revealed.

Despite housing benefit cuts in April 2012, including caps on local housing allowance rates in the private rented sector, most councils did not claim all the money they were entitled to for discretionary housing payments (DHPs).

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show councils spent just over £55m of the £67.9m available to them for DHPs in 2012/13. This year, the government increased the total to £150m - partly because of the bedroom tax.

But councils, some of whom claim they will not have enough money to meet demand for DHPs in 2013/14, could not carry forward any of last year’s underspend.

For the second year running, the largest underspender was Westminster. The London borough failed to spend £826,552 of the £4.5m offered by the DWP. A further four councils recorded underspends of more than £300,000 - Manchester (£595,032), Barnet (£380,050), Lewisham (£372,552) and Liverpool (£337,435).

Discretionary housing payments are available to people in financial hardship that are entitled to housing benefit and show they need extra help with rent and other housing bills. Councils not only decide who receives DHPs, but also how much. They cannot be used to pay off rent arrears.

Fourteen of the 377 councils that submitted returns to the DWP spent less than one third of their allocation, while 51 spent less than half. Horsham, in West Sussex, spent just 12% (£7,920) of the £64,809 available. The council awarded 74 DHPs, worth an average of £107, compared with a national average of £400.

The breakdown of DHP spending was compiled by Landlord Information Network following a Freedom of Information request. Claire Turner, director of LIN, said the figures raise doubts over whether social and private landlords are fully clear about how to help tenants claim DHPs. “Most landlords are unaware of how much their local authority is underspending,” she said. “This is money that is then lost to the local area and lost by people who need it most.”

Earlier this month, Birmingham asked the government if it can top up the £3.77m it was given for DHPs in 2013/14 with £2m from its own budget. Unlike most councils, Birmingham spent its full DHP allocation last year, and topped up the £1.67m it was allocated with £272,590 of its own.

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