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Councils failing to spend £millions in DHPs as families struggle

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Councils failing to spend £millions in DHPs as families struggle

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Published by Max Salsbury for 24dash.com in Local Government and also in Finance, Housing

Councils failing to spend millions in DHPs as families struggle Councils failing to spend millions in DHPs as families struggle

By Neil Merrick

Local authorities are failing to spend millions of pounds that could potentially be used as emergency payments for families hit by welfare cuts.

Figures from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) show councils spent just £147 million of the £160m that was initially allocated to them in 2013/14 for discretionary housing payments (DHPs).

When the DWP offered a further £20m partway through the year, councils bid for less than £13m of this extra pot. But with some councils exceeding government allocations and putting in £16.8m from their own budgets, total spending on DHPs reached more than £176m.

This is more than treble the £56m that was spent on DHPs the previous year - prior to the introduction of the bedroom tax and benefits cap.

Councils have consistently failed to spend all the money they could on DHPs for the past four years. However, last year their availability was flagged up - not least by the government which sees them as a safety net for households facing benefit cuts.

Claire Turner, director of Landlord Information Network, which analyses DHP data annually, said councils still lack trained full-time staff who can advise people over DHPs.

“They are not pointing customers in the right direction or supporting them in making a claim,” she said.

Last year, for the first time, councils were asked to reveal the reasons why DHPs were awarded. Two thirds of the 392,000 awarded resulted from the bedroom tax, which accounted for £81m worth of DHP spending.

Nearly 10% of councils spent less than 60% of their initial total allocation, with 18 spending less than half. The largest under-spender was Westminster, which failed to spend £1.26m (21%) of the £5.9m on offer from the DWP.

Councils can top up their DHP allocation by up to two and a half times, using their own money. This cap was lifted for councils in Scotland, where Glasgow spent £3.4m from its own budget and Edinburgh £1.8m.

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