DHP pot could run dry, councillors told

Tommy Sheridan among the thousands who marched from Glasgow Green to George Square to protest against The Bedroom Tax that the Government are introducing. Picture Robert Perry The Scotsman 30th March 2013
Tommy Sheridan among the thousands who marched from Glasgow Green to George Square to protest against The Bedroom Tax that the Government are introducing. Picture Robert Perry The Scotsman 30th March 2013

Councillors heard this week that there may be insufficient funds in the current year to give vital financial support to Borderers hit by the bedroom tax.

A report to Scottish Borders Council’s executive on Tuesday confirmed there had been 2,238 applications for discretionary housing payments (DHPs) in the 12 months to March 31, 2015, and that £705,000 had been disbursed.

Around 90 per cent of applicants were housing benefit claimants suffering hardship as a result of the removal of the spare room subsidy.

This represents a 70 per cent increase on the 1,312 people who had sought the payments in 2013/14 when £492,000 was successfully claimed.

The surge in claims and payments has been attributed to an awareness campaign launched in February last year by the council and the four main social housing providers in the region.

That campaign, supported by a designated take-up officer employed by SBC, highlighted the availability of DHPs for those tenants who had suffered a 14 per cent cut in housing benefit because they were deemed to be under-occupying one room in their homes.

Those with two spare rooms saw their housing benefit slashed by 25 per cent.

The DHPs have typically been used to top up rents, defray the cost of moving to smaller properties, pay for rent deposits and, in some cases, support claimants who may be responsible for renting two properties simultaneously for a short period.

Although administered by the council, DHPs have, up to now, been fully underwritten by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) and the Scottish Government in a bid to mitigate the impact of the Westminster-imposed bedroom tax on housing benefit claimants, of which there are an estimated 8,200, either in social or private housing, in the region.

This week’s report by SBC customer services manager Les Grant indicated that around 25 per cent of these households had successfully claimed DHPs in the last financial year.

However, he noted that while the £705,000 disbursed last year had come within budget, the prospects for the current financial year were different because the combined DWP/Scottish Government contribution had been reduced to £617,000.

“For 2015/16 there is a risk there will be insufficient budget … to meet demand,” warned Mr Grant.

“To mitigate this risk, the number and monetary value of DHP applications will be closely monitored and the policy revised if required.”

Councillors agreed to note the report and instructed officers to monitor the situation on a quarterly basis.