Redbridge Council forks out nearly £1m for people struggling with housing costs

Redbridge Council paid out nearly �1m to people struggling with housing costs. Picture: Rui Vieira/P

Redbridge Council paid out nearly �1m to people struggling with housing costs. Picture: Rui Vieira/PA Images - Credit: PA Wire/Press Association Images

Redbridge Council had to pay out nearly £1million last year to help people struggling with housing costs.

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 Redbridge Council paid £934,700 in Discretionary Housing Payments to claimants in 2018-19.

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 handed out in Redbridge, £339,500 went to helping people who were in difficulties because of reforms in the welfare system.

The main cause of financial hardship was the benefit cap, accounting for £217,800 of the total.

In total, 766 payments were made to claimants during the year, averaging £1,220 a piece.

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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, Redbridge Council exceeded its government allocation by 4per cent - £36,000.

Deputy leader, Councillor Kam Rai, said: "It's very clear to us that the government's reforms were going to hit our residents hard.

"A decade of austerity, benefit changes and spiralling private sector rents has meant thousands of residents need extra support to put a roof over their heads. In Redbridge, we believe we owe it to them to provide as much help as we can.

"We're also stepping up with the largest council housing programme in decades, including 600 genuinely affordable council homes by 2022 to ensure local people have a safe and secure home.

"We are doing our bit but it's clear the government must step up and do more."

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: "These payments shouldn't be needed so much in the first place - they're simply a quick fix to structural problems."

Across England and Wales, councils paid out almost £151m during the course of the year and one in three councils had to spend more than the amount they got from government.

A DWP spokeswoman said: "Since 2011, we have provided local authorities with over £1bn 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."