The Chair of Dumfries and Galloway Council’s Welfare Reform Committee, Councillor Colin Smyth has criticised the UK Government’s programme of welfare reform for “passing the burden onto local councils’
At a meeting of the Council’s Welfare Reform Committee today (10 February) Councillors agreed to allocate a further £39,000 from the Council’s welfare reform mitigation fund to pay for the equivalent of 1.5 full-time workers to deal with a massive increase in applications for Discretionary Housing Payments.
A report to councillors at the Committee revealed that applications for financial help from tenants through Discretionary Housing Benefit payments in Dumfries and Galloway have increased from 42 bids in January 2013 to more than 350 applications per month over the last year, primarily as a result of the “bedroom tax”. The report stated that the extra staff are needed to assess and award payments as the current system is not sustainable.
The report revealed that from April to December 2014 the council had paid out £1.157 m in Discretionary Housing Payments. £859,000 of these payments were to 1,468 households in the region hit by the “bedroom tax”.
Chair of the Welfare Reform Committee Councillor Colin Smyth said, “The demands on the council for Discretionary Housing Payments are growing all the time as more and more people feel the impact of the UK Government’s Welfare Reform. As a result the council has to employ extra staff to deal with the applications and it is likely that we will pay out nearly £1.2 m in DHP this financial year. Almost three quarters of those payments will be to support people affected by the bedroom tax. It actually shows that far from saving the taxpayer money, the UK Government’s welfare reform agenda is simply passing the burden onto local councils who have to pick up the rising bill. The fear we have for next year is we know the UK government’s grant to the council for these payments is being cut by more than £44,000 but we still don’t know how much we will get from the Scottish Government. If they also cut their grant then we will either have to find extra money from elsewhere or change the criteria for awarding DHP but that could mean some people losing out.”