Discretionary Housing Payments used to ‘paper over the cracks’ of poor policies
Shelter Scotland has cautioned against Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) being viewed as a long-term solution to Scotland’s housing crisis after new figures revealed a 37 per cent increase in the number of awards.
Statistics released by the Scottish Government show that local authorities made 84,000 payments during the period 1 April to 30 June 2015, an increase of 22,812 compared to the same period last year.
The payments, which are used to offset extra housing benefit charges incurred by Scottish tenants through the ‘bedroom tax’, brings the total value of DHP awards spent or committed so far for 2015/16 to £40.5 million, 84 per cent of the total estimated funding of £48.3m over the period.
The average DHP award value was £481.
Graeme Brown, director of housing and homelessness charity Shelter Scotland, said the figures show the “desperate circumstances faced by tens of thousands of households across Scotland on a daily basis”.
He said: “That 84,000 households received the help they needed to pay for their homes is good news, but the plain fact that so many could not afford to cover their housing costs in the first place just goes to show the true extent of Scotland’s housing crisis.
“We urge every local authority to do all they can to help as many people as possible as a matter of urgency and anyone struggling to pay their rent to apply for help that is available. Failure to do so would mean that some people would face the very real threat of mounting rent arrears, eviction and homelessness.”
Graeme Brown added: “While a vital lifeline to people who need them, Discretionary Housing Payments are not a long-term solution. These payments are being used to paper over the cracks in poor policies, like the bedroom tax. We urge the Scottish Government to use the powers available to them to abolish this contentious policy once and for all.
“To meaningfully tackle our housing crisis, we need to build more affordable homes, including 10,000 new social homes every year for the foreseeable future.”
Local authorities received around 89,000 applications for DHPs and processed around 87,000 of these. This figure is likely to include a sizeable number of cases affected by the bedroom tax, where local authorities have continued to make up the shortfall in tenant’s weekly rent through the use of DHPs.
The final amount will be calculated and announced after the end of the 2015/16 financial year.
Housing minister Margaret Burgess said the Scottish Government will continue to fully mitigate the bedroom tax where possible.
Mrs Burgess said: “Discretionary Housing Payments offer a lifeline for tenants who need extra help with housing costs or to offset the harmful effects of the bedroom tax. 84,000 awards have been made up to June of this year.
“The Scottish Government is providing £35m this year to ensure every local authority in Scotland has sufficient funding to fully mitigate the bedroom tax whilst also protecting non bedroom tax elements of DHPs. Using the new powers coming to Scotland, the Scottish Government will abolish the bedroom tax where possible.
“We continue to do all we can to limit the damaging effects of the UK government’s social security cuts which impacts on some of the poorest and most vulnerable in our society. Our current and planned funding will result in an investment of around £296m over the period 2013/14 to 2015/16 to help those most in need.”