Sunday, 7 November 2010

Response From Cllr Dewinton Regarding DHPs Following Our 'Chat'

Following my online 'chat' with some councillors last month Cllr Dewinton has sent me a briefing on Discretionary Housing Payments, presumably to back up her claim that I was 'under an illusion' that NCC may not be doing all it can.

If you want to read it and see whether she has succeeded you can download a copy here.

I have responded to Cllr Dewinton's briefing as follows -

(update - Cllr D has forwarded my email to the Director for Strategic Finance who will apparently send me a response)

"Dear Cllr Dewinton,

Thank you for sending me the briefing, I have some comments to offer.

Firstly, the response looks very similar to a response I received last April via Cllr Trimble, with a few additions

I did a critique of this at the time

There also appears to be additions similar to the responses I have received via the Freedom of information Act

It is not very clear what the 'working group' has actually done beyond hold two informal meetings for which no minutes were taken. I am particularly concerned that no attempt seems to have been made to draw up local decision making guidance to ensure consistency, priorities and fair budgeting throughout the year. National guidance from the DWP is no substitute for this because what happens in Nottingham is not necessarily the same as what happens in Newham or Newport.

I draw your attention to the table of expenditure contained in your briefing. This demonstrates that central government funding for DHPs has dropped year on year almost from the beginning. A case of unfair treatment of local government by central? Not really. If an authority underspends its allocation of funding then the allocation next year is dropped

and as it is plain to see NCC has underspent consistently until 2009/10.

I have an extended version of the table that you were provided with, drawn from FoIA responses, which includes the total numbers of applications and the success rates for each year

You can see that, apart from two years which included 2001/2 which wasn't actually a full year, the majority of applications have been refused. And yet NCC was not even spending its full central grant never mind the maximum total spend it was allowed. You can see that the number of applications reached its high point in 2005/6 then dropped each year until recovering somewhat in 2009/10 which, coincidentally I'm sure, was when I started making some noise about the matter. The number of applications is sill less than in 2005/6 but I do acknowledge that some work has been done here and hopefully this direction will continue. However, these figures don't say much for historic take-up activities, especially considering the high profile 'We're On Your Side' campaign which was launched in response to the recession. And evictions due to rent arrears were reported to have increased by 42% at the end of 2008

and you have to wonder how many of those could have been prevented by more payments of DHPs. I calculated that, if the central allocation for DHPs had increased at the same level of inflation each year instead of decreasing an extra £500,000 would have been payable.

The Task and Finish Panel on Debt Collection was told of low success rates in DHP applications and underspends in Sep 2006 yet no effective action appears to have been taken, despite numerous promises made

This appears to be a pattern of promises unfulfilled. The fact that the central funding was exceeded in 2009/10 is as much, if not more, to do with the year on year decreases in funding caused by underspends.

To conclude, you accused me of being 'under an illusion' about Nottingham City Council when forming my views. The above demonstrates that my views are informed by evidence and expert knowledge. I will not claim that my conclusions are beyond challenge but the bar is set high enough to expect any challenge to be a detailed, reasoned and evidenced one, rather than unfounded accusations of delusion. I would be grateful if you could reply to acknowledge that fact and to apologise for your earlier slur. In addition I believe there is a strong case for the Overview and Scrutiny Committee taking a detailed look at DHPs considering the increased importance they will have following the government's horrifying cuts to mainstream HB, in order to ensure that NCC's system is as robust as it can be. It is looking as though Nottingham will be among the worst affected in the East Midlands.

I look forward to hearing back from you."

We'll see if anything comes back.

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