Tenants reap the benefits

22 Apr 99
Moves to streamline the housing benefit system are being stepped up after evidence that delays in processing claims is the major cause of rent arrears.

23 April 1999

Housing associations have been promised that a scheme, pioneered by the London Borough of Lewisham, will be extended nationwide within a year. The south London council used to take up to 47 days to process claims. It halved this mainly by transmitting data electronically between Benefit Agency offices and the council's housing benefit section.

David Gleave, a senior civil servant at the Department of Social Security, told a London Housing Federation conference last week that the DSS was aiming to extend the scheme nationally by April 2000.

A survey carried out by the federation showed registered social landlords blame delays in processing housing benefit payments for up to 90% of their rent arrears.

Gleave admitted that some benefit offices could be improved, but said that others provide a good service. 'Most people get their benefit within a reasonable time,' he said.

The government had no plans to change a rule introduced 18 months ago, which means new claimants receive their housing benefit four weeks in arrears instead of two, he added.

Earlier, June Bannister, acting head of benefits at Lewisham, said a new system of shared visits to the homes of benefit claimants, devised by the council and the Benefits Agency, had led to staff savings of 24%.

Gleave said the DSS had still to decide on a timescale for extending this part of the scheme nationwide.


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