Council offers possible lifeline to people struggling with housing benefit

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Certain disabled people, foster carers and people fleeing domestic violence are to be prioritised for Discretionary Housing Payments under a draft scheme that Central Bedfordshire Council is currently consulting on.

The draft policy also proposes that the Council could choose to award payments indefinitely to disabled people in particular circumstances.

Discretionary Housing Payments have traditionally provided short-term financial support to people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover their rent or who need help with a deposit or removal costs, so they can move into a smaller or cheaper rented place.

The Council uses its discretion in deciding who should get help from the cash-limited fund but the new policy will make it clear for everyone what criteria these decisions will be based on.

Changes in Housing Benefit and other welfare support, introduced last April, have led to an increase in demand for help.

To help manage the higher demand, the money that the Council gets from central Government for Discretionary Housing Payments has been increased to £280,944 from 2013/14. In particular the extra money is intended to ease the effect of Housing Benefit reductions on people who rent privately, who are affected by bedroom size limit (or under-occupation) rules in social housing or who are affected by the Benefit Cap.

For those affected by the bedroom size criteria in social housing the Government wants Discretionary Housing Payments to primarily support disabled people whose homes have to be significantly adapted and also foster carers. Central Bedfordshire Council is proposing to prioritise these two groups as well as other disabled people and people fleeing domestic violence.

The draft policy also identifies other situations in which people will be considered for Discretionary Housing Payments, if the fund stretches far enough. These include people who for various reasons, such as health or personal problems, need to stay in their current property.

Cllr Maurice Jones, Executive Member for Corporate Resources and Deputy Leader of Central Bedfordshire Council says: “Discretionary Housing Payments are a finite resource and we want to make sure that we allocate our available funds to help those in greatest need and to greatest effect. With so much pressure on our funds we simply aren’t able to help everyone and have some difficult judgements to make. It is vital that we make those decisions using a process that is as fair and transparent as possible.

“Our proposed scheme reflects the Council’s priorities to support disabled or elderly people in remaining in their home, to provide support and protection for vulnerable residents of all ages and to help those who are trying to help themselves and others.”

The consultation will be open until April 16. You can respond to the consultation through the Council’s website Printed copies of the consultation documents are available in local libraries.