South Ayrshire Council has agreed changes to its Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) policy, aimed at helping tenants affected by recent welfare reform changes, where their housing costs are more than the amount of benefit they receive.
The changes to the DHP policy will now permit awards for longer – up to a maximum of 12 months. In addition, those in temporary accommodation and those residents subject to the 25% housing benefit under-occupancy restriction, will be treated as exceptional cases and awards may be made in excess of the current £7 per week limit.
With the introduction of the welfare changes in April, many tenants have seen reductions in their benefit payments and the Council has seen a corresponding (56%) increase in the number of DHP awards since then, compared with the same time last year.
The Council’s DHP fund is made up from payments from the Department of Work and Pensions and the Scottish Government, topped up to the maximum level of £655,000 by the Council.
South Ayrshire Council Leader, Councillor Bill McIntosh welcomed the decision saying: “We understand many people who receive benefits have seen reductions in their benefit payments and we want to support them through the difficulties and challenges that they are experiencing, helping them maintain their tenancies and not fall into arrears on their rent.
“Discretionary Housing Payments are already used to support our tenants and Housing Association tenants, as well as over 2,000 private sector tenants, to help them sustain their tenancy and prevent homelessness.
“It’s essential anyone seeking assistance through DHP completes an application form, as we cannot assess any circumstances until a formal application for assistance is made.
The Council is also making additional funding available for temporary staffing costs to help with the increased demand and assist with the application process, making sure those most in need of assistance get the help they need at the earliest opportunity.
Councillor McIntosh continued: “Despite having the maximum funding available to us, we are aware that DHPs will not fully meet the shortfall between benefits awarded and rent payments due.
“We know times and circumstances are challenging and we’ll do everything we can support people who work with us to make sure they can pay their rent, minimise arrears and to stay in their homes.
“All cases will be considered individually on their merits and I urge anyone experiencing financial difficulty to make contact with us as soon as possible so we can explore all the options available.”