Eviction risk over lack of hardship fund cash

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STRUGGLING families and individuals face increased poverty and a greater risk of eviction after council chiefs failed to find extra cash for a hardship fund, it was claimed today.

The city council had the option to add up to £2 million to UK government funding of £1.3m for Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) to help people hit by the bedroom tax and other welfare reforms.

But now council officials have reported they have not been able to identify “matched funding” and so the DHP fund will be limited to the amount allocated by the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP).

Green group convener Steve Burgess said the £1.3m would quickly be used up and people facing hardship would be left helpless. He said the result would be families having to choose between paying their rent, buying food or meeting their fuel bills, with more people falling into rent arrears and the potential for more evictions.

The rules allow councils to top up the DWP allocation by up to 1.5 times.

Cllr Burgess said: “We could have had a fund of over £3m, but the council is not taking up that option. Even if it was topped up to the full extent, this fund would not fully compensate for the welfare reforms, but because we’re not topping it up at all we will be able to help even fewer people.

“People will be applying for DHP and may well be refused because there is only enough funding to meet the absolute emergency cases.”

He said although the council
had adopted a policy of “no evictions” when arrears were caused by the bedroom tax, it did not cover people hit by the other controversial welfare reforms and did not apply to housing association or private tenants.

Cllr Burgess said: “The consequence is if they don’t get help with rent, people could end up being evicted.”

A report to the council’s policy and strategy committee yesterday said 450 cases had already been awarded DHP and another 930 cases were outstanding, with new requests being received at the rate of between 20 and 30 per day.

In April, £45,659 was spent on DHP against an estimated monthly budget of £112,275. However, the report said the monthly budget was likely to be reached when the backlog of cases was cleared.

Housing vice-convener Cammy Day said: “We would love to have found more money, but the budget didn’t allow it. However, the figures so far are under budget.”

He said the situation would be kept under review.

iswanson@edinburghnews.com