Liberal Democrat County Councillor for Wem, Chris Mellings, labelled Shropshire Council’s poor use of Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) a disgrace.
Chris said: “Every year the Government awards Shropshire Council a grant for Discretionary Housing Payments to help people with short-term housing costs. Every year Shropshire Council sends Grant money back to the Government unspent. Every year for the last four years the proportion returned has gone up! All at a time when more people are feeling the financial pressure of austerity. This is a disgrace.”
The Conservative government has been good at increasing the level of DHPs grant. The failure of the Conservative-run council to deliver the grant money to the maximum number of people who could benefit is appalling.
Last year Shropshire Council received £531,974 yet Shropshire Council sent back £234,855 or 55.6% of the grant to the Government unspent. In 2013/14 the amount returned to the government was £60,847 of which 21.9% was returned unspent.
At the full council meeting in December 2013, Chris asked how much of the DHP grant wasn’t being spent and later chaired a task and finish group on the use of DHPs. “We argued in 2013 that more should be done to improve take-up by people in or seeking rented accommodation in council, social and private rental sectors. If you are struggling with your housing costs, then applying for some short-term relief through Discretionary Housing Payments may be of help.” Chris concluded: “These payments are designed to help stop people building up arrears and people becoming homeless. If you need help ask.”
Shropshire Council returned 5x more unspent DHP Grant to the Government in 2017/18 than it did in 2013/14
The proportion of unused Government DHP Grant returned each year has more than doubled in four years to 55.9%.
Shropshire Liberal Democrats are the largest opposition group on Shropshire Council. They would work harder to reverse the trend and make sure more of the allocated grant money reaches the people who need it the most.
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs)
DHPs are additional payments for people currently receiving Housing Benefit or universal credit who require further financial assistance with their housing costs. Housing costs are not defined in the regulations. This gives Shropshire Council broad discretion to interpret the term. Payments can be made to Council, Social or Private tenants. DHP is paid for a time-limited period and is intended primarily as ‘transitional’ assistance. For example:
- Alleviate hardship and help prevent homelessness;
- Support vulnerable people in the community;
- Help people through a family crisis or difficult life events.
In general, housing costs means rental liability; however, housing costs can be interpreted more widely to include:
- rent in advance;
- and other lump sum costs associated with a housing need (such as removal costs).
Alternatively, the award can be used to assist with the cost of taking up a tenancy.