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Concern about Fairness of Emergency Payments

Nick_Clarke.jpgI represent Greenhill on North West Leicestershire District Council and have questioned its policy on how they award emergency housing payments to the disabled.

If you are receiving some Housing Benefit, in financial difficulty and are struggling to keep up to date with your rent, the Council can award a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) to help.  The Council calculate the income and expenditure of the claimant and decide whether they qualify for DHP.

These emergency payments are a life saver for some tenants, but I believe the disabled are being disadvantaged by the Council when they determine who qualifies for them.

The problem is when disabled tenants who receive Disability Living Allowance (DLA) apply for DHP the Council use DLA as an income when making their calculations. This extra income disadvantages the disabled when DHP’s are awarded, but DLA should never be used as an income in such calculations. DLA is intended to pay for the extra costs of disability, such as extra heating costs, mobility aids and adaptions, health care, special dietary needs, etc. DLA is definitely not meant to be used to pay rent.

Steve Webb, who is the Government Works and Pensions Minister has told Councils to “disregard income from disability-related benefits, as they are intended to be used to help pay for the extra costs of disability”.

The government has asked councils to prioritise people with disabilities and long-term health conditions when deciding who should get emergency payments, but this simply isn't happening in North West Leicestershire.

Claims for DHP’s are on the increase due to the introduction of the under occupancy charge or bedroom tax in April 2013, which reduces the amount of Housing Benefit social housing tenants receive if they are judged to have spare bedrooms. It is estimated that two thirds of households affected by the “bedroom tax” is home to someone with a disability.

I raised my concerns at a recent Council meeting.  I believe the disabled are getting a raw deal from this Government’s welfare reforms, particularly the bedroom tax, and the Council could do more to help by reviewing how they award Discretionary Housing Payments.

It is good to note that the next Labour Government would repeal the bedroom tax, which would help resolve this and many other issues.

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