Crisis housing payouts double in Shropshire and Telford boroughs
Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin councils paid out more than £1 million to help benefit claimants struggling with housing costs, figures have revealed.
Housing charity Shelter said the payments could be vital to stop people losing their homes but were a "quick fix" for a flawed housing system.
Figures from the Department of Work and Pensions show Shropshire Council paid £451,800 in Discretionary Housing Payments during the 12 months to March.
Neighbouring councils covering Powys and Telford & Wrekin also paid out £559,000 and £558,600 respectively.
Discretionary Housing Payments are given to people who qualify for either Housing Benefit or the housing element of the new Universal Credit, and who are struggling with housing costs.
Of the total awarded in Shropshire, £245,600 went to helping people who were in difficulties because of reforms in the welfare system, while the figure was £385,100 in Shrposhire.
The benefit cap alone led to £48,000 of payouts in Shropshire and to £135,200 of payouts in the Telford area.
The cap, which was introduced in 2013, limits the total amount of benefits a person can receive to £13,400 per year, or £20,000 for a couple or single parent
In total, 1,096 payments were made to Shropshire claimants during the year, averaging £510 a piece, and 842 payments were made to claimants in Telford, averaging £537 a piece.
The figure means the amount spent on Discretionary Housing Payments has more than doubled in both Shropshire and Telford and Wrekin since they were introduced in 2013-14.
Public services think tank Reform warned that local authorities were having to plug the gaps in national welfare spending – despite their budgets being hit hard under austerity.
Each year, the Government allocates a set amount of funding to each local authority for Discretionary Housing Payments.
If an authority needs to spend more than this, however, it must dip into its own funds.
Last year, Shropshire Council spent 94 per cent of its government allocation and Telford and Wrekin Council spent all of its allocation.
Across England and Wales, councils paid out almost £151 million during the course of the year.
One in three councils had to spend more than the amount they got from government.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "Discretionary Housing Payments are vital in many cases and can be the difference between people losing their home or not – but they shouldn’t be a replacement for a fit-for-purpose welfare system.
“These payments shouldn’t be needed so much in the first place – they’re simply a quick fix to structural problems.
“To solve the underlying crisis for good, the Government must commit to building 3.1 million social homes in the next 20 years, as well as making sure housing benefit is enough to actually cover rents.”
A DWP spokeswoman said the Government spent £23 billion a year helping people in the UK with their housing costs.
She added: "Since 2011, we have provided local authorities with over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payments to protect the most vulnerable claimants.
"The allocation of this funding ensures a fair distribution across local authority areas, and is reviewed each year."
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