This week we re-launched our ‘Waste Not, Want Not’ campaign to raise awareness of a fund known as Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs).
These payments are meant to help people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of their rent. Councils may award someone a DHP for a range of reasons such as: helping people cope with welfare cuts such as the benefit cap and bedroom tax as well as the introduction of universal credit.
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 has 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.
We carried out a Freedom of Information request to find out how much money councils had left in their DHP pots. The results were – for the most part – really positive.
Welsh local authorities had a tough job this year to spend DHPs as the pot for Wales has been increased by 24%. However, the majority of councils have risen brilliantly to the challenge.
So far this year local authorities have given out more than £8.2 million which is a fantastic 36% higher than the same time last year.
More than 45,000 people have been helped to avoid homelessness – this is around 12,000 more people than this time last year.
Almost every council is on track to spend the full amount. Five councils have already added in extra funds and others are promising to do so when the need arises.
And the council that’s helped most people this year is:
Torfaen, which has already spent their whole allocation and topped up by £80,000. This council has helped more people than any other local authority – nearly 6,000 people so far.
There are some councils that have made huge strides in improving their performance in the last year.
Cardiff, Carmarthenshire, Gwynedd, Newport and Wrexham have all increased their spending by more than 50%, some of them by more than 100%.
Blaenau Gwent council has shown massive improvements in their performance. This time last year more than half the DHP pot was still unspent. This year the council has already spent the whole sum and topped up by more than £44,000.
Room for improvement:
The only council currently giving cause for concern is Merthyr Tydfil which still had 42 per cent of their pot unspent at the beginning of January.
So what needs to happen next?
For the last three years Shelter Cymru has been campaigning to ask local authorities to ensure that they give out their whole allocation and don’t return any money to Westminster.
We are pleased that our campaigning has had a positive effect on councils’ use of DHPs and that less money is being returned to Westminster year on year. It’s fantastic that by working together Wales is achieving such great results.
At a time when more than 25,000 people become homeless every year, including more than 2,800 children, it’s vital that we make the most of every penny to keep people in their homes.
Last year £189,000 less was given back to Westminster than the previous year. Let’s all ensure that in 2018, every penny of DHP is spent on keeping people in their homes and no money is returned to Westminster.
Shelter Cymru is also calling on the public to let friends and family know that they may be eligible to apply to the fund. Our website includes information on how much money councils have left and how to apply.