Applications to Havering Council for discretionary housing payment (DHP) soar amid benefit changes

PUBLISHED: 18:19 14 August 2013

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Photo: Dominic Lipinski/PA

PA Wire/Press Association Images

The number of people applying to Havering Council for help with rent, over and above benefit payments, has more than doubled since 2011.

In the last four months the council has received the same number of Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) requests as in the whole of 2011/12.

It comes as the Local Government Association warns councils may have to eat into services to meet the rising cost of DHP applications.

But Havering has been allocated a bigger pot of cash to cope with the increase in need, and a spokesman said the council was on track to stay within its budget.

Since April, 246 people have asked for the payments – most likely due to the introduction of the “bedroom tax”, or spare room subsidy, which affected 1,122 households in the borough.

Councils dish out DHP funds to people who already qualify for housing and council tax benefit but are still having trouble paying their rent.

Housing boss Cllr Lesley Kelly said: “There has been a slight increase in payments but we had carefully planned for this and anticipate that, as the welfare reforms bed in, the number will settle down.

“We will continue to manage our annual allocation very carefully and ensure we always stay within it.”

According to housing charity Shelter, once a council runs out of DHP cash, no more payments can be made – regardless of the circumstances of the claimant.

But a Havering spokesman confirmed the borough has never gone over its allocation, and no one has ever been refused it on the basis that funds aren’t available.

Kay Boycott, director of policy and communications at Shelter, said: “This increase in applications for emergency support shows how many people are caught in a desperate struggle to keep their home, thanks to deep cuts to our housing safety net.

“Worryingly, the latest series of changes to housing support means even more families will be facing that battle in the future.

“As a result, it’s likely the funding available to councils just won’t stretch far enough, leaving some people at risk of homelessness.

“Getting advice early can make the difference between keeping your home and losing it, so anyone worried about paying their housing costs should get advice as soon as possible.”

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