Councils overlook vital benefit review

27 Apr 00
More than three-quarters of housing benefit claims made by people living in sheltered and supported accommodation were not reviewed by councils as required, in the run-up to a new funding system.

28 April 2000

Councils are meant to spend the next three years assessing the proportion of benefit claimed by elderly people and other vulnerable groups that is spent on support rather than on housing costs.

This is so that, from April 2003, money spent on support can be switched to a new grant which will be administered by local authorities independently of housing benefit.

During the three-year transitional period, councils must review housing benefit claims ahead of each new financial year. The first reviews should have been completed before April 1.

But, according to a survey of registered social landlords carried out by the National Housing Federation in late March, only 13%of claims had been reviewed, while a further 9% were under review.

In a letter to social security minister Angela Eagle, NHF chief executive Jim Coulter said that figures from the first year will be of poor quality and could lead to a sizeable underestimate of the amount of money which should be switched to the new grant.

'I urge you to investigate why performance to date has been so slow, and to issue further instructions to local authorities to encourage them to step up the review process,' he said.

The federation surveyed 73 housing associations which, in total, provide nearly 76,000 units of accommodation for elderly tenants or people who require support, including the single homeless, people with disabilities and ex-offenders. Nearly 59,000 of these (77.5%) were still awaiting reviews at the end of March.

Fahmeeda Gill, a policy officer at the federation, stressed that the NHF was not necessarily blaming councils as unrealistic expectations had been placed on them. 'It is going to be a learning curve for providers and for local authorities in processing it all,' she told Public Finance.


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