Thursday, 3 November 2011

Discretionary Housing Payments - Any Change?

So then, back to my favourite obsession. Where had we got to?

Ah yes, last we heard was that in the 2009/10 year NCC got £59,639 from the government towards DHPs and, joy of joys, the total actually paid out went up for the first time in years to £66,677 from the previous year's £51,882.

Strange then that the 2010/11 central government grant dropped to £55,863. You see, normally, the amount allocated should be half way between the previous year's grant and actual expenditure so an increase in DHP payouts should pull the grant up. So I'm not sure what that was about.

Anyway that was the last year that the old rules applied because since then the lovely Tories have cut mainstream Housing Benefit even more and part of the 'sweetener' for the deal was an extra nationwide £10m DHP allocation (making £30m in total) to allow councils to apply a scrap of band aid. This extra £10m is not allocated via the normal formula mentioned above it is weighted in favour of councils who would lose the most from the cuts which, as I've posted before, kinda means Nottingham.

Now I have been ranting about this for a while because it means that tenants on benefits will be even more reliant on DHPs to keep a roof over their heads. One Nottingham failed to even mention DHPs in it's recent 'concern' about benefit cuts. So I was interested to find out how much Nottingham had actually got for the 2011/12 financial year i.e. the current one. Turns out it's £119,316 which is more than double that of last year. This implies that a big chunk of that is from this extra £10m. Councils are also allowed to spend a certain amount of their own money on DHPs and if NCC spent the maximum it is allowed to that would be a potential total fund of over £298k.

So, we know that Nottingham is expected to do disproportionally badly out of mainstream HB cuts. We know that Nottingham's share of the band-aid is bigger than most. What we don't have is any evidence that NCC has anything approaching a plan for ensuring this extra money is used most effectively.

The result of this is that any mitigation of the worst effects of the HB cuts that would have been possible from this extra funding probably won't happen and we will see a big increase in rent arrears and evictions as a result. How many of these could be prevented by a decent DHP strategy is impossible for me to say but if only one person loses their home when there's money there to stop it I think that's criminal.

Note; if you are currently suffering a shortfall between your housing benefit and your rent I would strongly recommend that you apply for DHPs, even if you've been turned down before because of the increased budget.

The forms are available here. Note that the DHP leaflet there was prepared in 2005 and the contact address is for a building that doesn't exist anymore. That probably tells you all you need to know about the amount of effort NCC puts in and how much they give a shit about you becoming homeless.

Addendum; I've just found that One Nottingham have had further discussions on welfare issues at their May Meeting. A policy document is available but ON seem to have got bored of publishing their minutes. Obviously there was no mention of DHPs in that paper. It seems to be all about blaming the government which in itself is fine but it's more productive to discuss the things that you do actually have some control over.

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