MORE than £100,000 to help people with a housing benefit shortfall will have to be handed back to central Government.
Oxford City Council says it will have about £200,000 left over from its discretionary housing payment (DHP) budget of £620,000 n for 2013/14 – £100,000 of that came from central Government and will have to be paid back.
People who receive housing benefit can apply for a payment from the city council if they have a shortfall between their housing benefit and their rent and may be at risk of becoming homeless.
The council has admitted that it has spent “significantly less” than its grant .
The admission prompted criticism from Lib Dem group leader Jean Fooks.
Speaking at a meeting of the city executive board, she said: “It does seem we should be making all possible efforts to spend this money.
“We should be helping people now while we can and while we have the money. Let’s not give it back if we possibly can.”
Headington resident Deloris Kelly, 51 has had her housing benefit reduced by £13 a week following the introduction of the bedroom tax and has used discretionary housing payments to cover her £98 rent.
The grandmother of three said: “The council should have made a point of spending the money or at least let people know about it more.
“I only found out about it because I had to go to court.”
As of the end of January, the city council had made 590 awards and processed 797 applications – with nearly half of these citing the new bedroom tax as a reason for the shortfall between housing benefit and rent.
City councillor Scott Seamons, the executive board member for housing, said: “We are doing a good job of getting out there and spending the money.”
Earlier this month the Oxford Mail revealed that families from the city were being offered homes as far away as Birmingham and Cardiff by the city council.
The council says it has rehoused five families outside Oxford, including two in Birmingham.
Cherwell District Council said that it received a grant of £203,354 and has only £7,165 unallocated but a spokesman said it expects to spend this by the end of the financial year.
City council spokeswoman Louisa Dean said about £100,000 from its funds would be carried forward to the next year if left over.
She said: “The city council has carefully managed the DHP budget so that there would be sufficient funds to make awards throughout the year.
“Some of the government’s welfare reforms that have affected the number of households applying for DHP were not introduced until later in the year, and it was important to ensure there was enough money in the budget to support people affected by this measure.”
A spokesman for South Oxfordshire and Vale of White Horse district councils said: “All our DHP applications are assessed on their merits taking account of personal circumstances including the income and expenditure and health and social factors of claimants.
“We are confident that we’ve provided help to all of our claimants that have needed it, while at the same time protecting the public purse.”
Around the county
- Oxford City Council: grant – £625,369 (includes £100,000 from the council’s budget); allocated – £422,268.22
- Cherwell District Council: grant – £203,354; allocated – £196,189
- South Oxfordshire District Council: – grant: £121,872; allocated – £101,337.82
- Vale of White Horse District Council: grant – £125,358; allocated: £77,890.40
- West Oxfordshire District Council: did not respond
Discretionary Housing payment
- People can claim DHP if they claim housing benefit but it does not cover their whole rent.
- A claim can be made by filling in a form available on the relevant council’s website.
- Before deciding whether to award a claimant money, the council will take into account any steps they may have taken to reduce their rent, any debts they may have and any efforts they have made to find cheaper housing.
- DHP is only meant to be a temporary measure and a successful applicant will be told how long it will last for.
- In most cases conditions will be attached to a DHP award, including attending work-related coaching and seeking assistance to manage debts.