Northampton housing benefit delays could make families homeless

New housing benefit applicants in Northampton are waiting almost a month for their claims to be processed, which a charity has warned could lead to homelessness.

Friday, 2nd November 2018, 9:04 am
Updated Friday, 2nd November 2018, 10:06 am

Between April 2018 and June 2018, new claimants waited 26 days on average before their application was completed, according to Department for Work and Pensions data.

That’s above the British average of 23 days, which includes weekends.

This waiting time can be worrying for applicants, and the charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, said they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness.

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Legal guidance states councils should respond to the claim within two weeks.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 1,313 new cases during the three month period.

In total, there were 34,569 housing benefit claimants in Northampton over that time.

During the same three months in 2017, applicants had to wait longer, with an average delay of 27 days.

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications at Turn2Us, said: “Housing benefit is not a luxury, it’s a safety net for people who simply do not earn enough money to be able to keep a roof over their head without it.

“Delays in paying housing benefit creates a gaping hole in the safety net leaving people without any money getting into debt that can’t pay back and in some cases at risk of slipping into homelessness.

“We need to see people receive prompt payment within the legal timeframe so that they can focus on other needs such as work and family and start to plan for their future with dignity.”

Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, if their savings are below £16,000, or are on a low income or other benefits.

The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms.

Northampton was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances, than those applying for the first time.

Those applications took on average nine days to complete.

A DWP spokesman said: “We spend around £23 billion a year on housing benefit - more than any other OECD country as a proportion of GDP.

“We work directly with each local authority to monitor housing benefit performance and this includes the speed of processing which has remained stable over a number of years.”

The Government is currently rolling out Universal Credit across the country, however Northampton did not have full service when this data was recorded. Claimants applying for housing benefit under Universal Credit have to wait five weeks, which includes a four week assessment period.

The spokesman added: “We will continue to work closely with local authorities as Universal Credit rolls out.”