Target times missed for housing benefit applicants in South Ayrshire

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New housing benefit applicants in South Ayrshire are waiting almost three weeks for their claims to be processed – beyond the legally advised response time.

Between January and March 2019, new claimants waited 18 days on average for their application to be completed, Department for Work and Pensions data shows.

That’s slightly below the average across Britain of 19 days including weekends.

This waiting time can be worrying for applicants, and the charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, said they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness as a result.

Legal guidance states councils should respond to the claim within two weeks.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 457 new cases during the three month period.

Including existing recipients, there were 8,058 housing benefit claimants in South Ayrshire in that time.

During the same three months in 2018, applicants had to wait longer, with an average delay of 22 days.

Debby Mulling, Head of Engagement at Turn2us, said: “The longer people are made to wait for their Housing Benefit, the more likely they are to fall into rental arrears, face eviction and end up homeless.

“It is vital that in a time of high rents, low affordability and precarious housing arrangements all benefits are paid swiftly.

“Official measures clearly state that claims for Housing Benefit should be processed within 14 days.

“The Government needs to provide adequate support to councils so they can achieve this target.”

Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, their savings are below £16,000, and they are on low income or other benefits.

The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms.

South Ayrshire was quicker at dealing with current claimants, who had changed their living circumstances, than those applying for the first time.

Those applications took on average just two days to complete.

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Housing Benefit is administered by local authorities and the speed of processing has remained stable for a number of years.

“We work directly with each local authority to monitor performance.”

The Government has rolled out Universal Credit in South Ayrshire, which aims to replace benefits such as housing benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and child tax credits.

“These figures include only people who were receiving the old housing benefit payments.

A spokesman for South Ayrshire Council said: “South Ayrshire Council Benefits Services staff process new claims as quickly as possible.

“All new claims are made online however customers are often required to provide additional supporting evidence to calculate their entitlement and this can often delay claims.

“Where customers are entitled to Housing Benefit it is paid with effect from the date the claim was first made.”