England

Third of councils top up housing benefits after cap

Birmingham tower blocks Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Birmingham City Council was given £3m to cover discretionary housing payments

About a third of English councils have spent additional money topping up a government fund aimed at cushioning the impact of welfare changes.

Some 111 councils spent £7.8m on payments to cover housing costs on top of what they were allocated by the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

It follows the introduction of the so-called "bedroom tax" and benefit cap.

Another 203 underspent and nine spent exactly what they were given. The DWP said it had increased funding.

See how much your council was allocated and spent here

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) allow councils to give extra funding to people in financial difficulty with housing costs.

The government increased its contribution in 2011 to support people affected by changes to housing benefit and Universal Credit, including the introduction of the benefit cap and the removal of the spare room subsidy.

Birmingham City Council, the largest in England in terms of population, was given just over £3m to cover discretionary payments. Official figures suggest it spent £4.4m.

However, the council is disputing the official figure and says it only topped up £260,861 from general funds, spending a total of £3,312,547. It has contacted the DWP to query the figure. The DWP said it published what it was told by the council.

At the other end of the scale, North Lincolnshire was allocated £240,930 but spent £39,626.

Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said the payments were a "temporary sticking plaster".

"To fix this crisis for good the government must commit to building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford to live in, and in the mean-time make sure families get the support they need to keep a roof over their heads," he said.

A DWP spokesman said: "Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their residents, which is why we will have given them over £1bn in funding by the end of this Parliament for those who need extra support transitioning to our welfare reforms.

"We work together with local authorities so they receive the funding required for their local areas' needs. Councils can also use some of their own grant funding to provide additional support."

English and Welsh councils can top up DHP with their own funds by up to 2.5 times their allocation. Scottish councils do not have a limit.

Any unused money, including £4.5m from under-spending English councils, goes back to central government to form part of the following year's funding.

The Scottish Government made an extra £35m available to fund DHPs above the £13.3m provided by central government.

English councils were allocated £103.5m and Welsh councils received £6.7m for 2015-16.

The funding was distributed based on how much was spent in each local authority area on housing benefit and how much had been lost through welfare reforms and the removal of the spare room subsidy.

Update 13 July, 2016: Following publication the Department for Work and Pensions accepted the corrected figure supplied by Birmingham City Council and re-published its statistics. They showed Birmingham City Council was awarded £3,051,686 to cover Discretionary Housing Payments in 2015/16 and awarded £3,312,547 to claimants.

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