Waste Not, Want Not… making the most of Discretionary Housing Payments

Earlier this year we launched our ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ campaign to raise awareness of a fund that is a crucial source of financial assistance for people struggling with their rent.

The funds, known as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs), are meant to help people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of their rent. Councils may award someone a DHP payment if, for example, they are affected by the bedroom tax or benefit cap.

Each year the money is given to Welsh councils by the UK Government. It’s up to councils to give the money out to people who need it. But if the money isn’t all spent by the end of March, the UK Government takes it back.

Our campaign aimed to encourage councils to make full use of this resource and help as many people as possible. For thousands of people in Wales, DHPs are all that stand between them and homelessness.

The campaign had a fantastic response:

  • Our campaign supporters added their names to the campaign and even contacted councils directly to encourage them to spend the money
  • Some councils drafted in extra staff to help process applications and changed their policies so more people could be helped
  • By the end of the year, councils had spent more than £8 million, and returned £180,000 less to the UK Government than the previous year.

Some councils went above and beyond and added extra money to their DHP pots. In total, councils topped up by more than £280,000.

The top five councils that spent the most and boosted their funds were:

  1. Torfaen
  2. Monmouthshire
  3. Cardiff
  4. Vale of Glamorgan
  5. Isle of Anglesey

However, the picture was not the same across Wales with some councils not only to failing to add to their budget but not even spending their full allocation. The five councils with the most returned to the UK Government were:

  1. Carmarthenshire
  2. Gwynedd
  3. Blaenau Gwent
  4. Ceredigion
  5. Wrexham

These councils were responsible for around 75% of the £100,000 under-spend that was returned to the UK Government. This money would have helped more than 300 households to stay in their homes.

Why did this money not get spent? Is it because councils have a culture of not spending, or are they not sufficiently in touch with people in their local area who are struggling? We know the need is high across Wales. With more than 15,000 people becoming homeless every year, including more than 2,800 children, this fund is incredibly important.

Shelter Cymru contacted the councils with the biggest underspends. Those who responded told us that they had actively encouraged applications, that they had promoted the fund locally and tried to be as inclusive as possible in their decision making.  Several councils said that despite their efforts, application numbers were still too low.

This year we are going to continue to encourage councils to spend their full allocations and demonstrate their commitment to supporting some of the most vulnerable people in Wales by using their resources to prevent homelessness.

It is not good enough to continue to penny-pinch when people’s homes are at risk. More than half of Welsh councils, 12 out of 22, had an under-spend. The amounts sent back ranged from £146 to £24,473 – money that could have stopped people from becoming homeless or getting into arrears and debt, but instead has gone back into the UK Government’s pocket.

This year, DHPs have become even more important as the total amount given to Welsh councils has increased by 25%. This means more people can be helped – provided councils ensure the money gets to the people who need it.

We hope that all councils recognise the importance of our campaign. They need to work together with the Welsh Government to ensure they are spending consistently and fairly. They also need to ensure their Housing Benefit teams and Homelessness teams are working together closely so that DHPs are fully utilised.

Congratulations to the top five councils and well done to all of our super campaigners who played a vital role in making this a success!

Table 1: DHP Top-ups and under-spends