Luton Borough Council hands out more than half a million pounds in extra housing help
Luton Borough Council handed out more than half a million pounds to residents in need of extra help with housing costs last year, figures reveal.
The Local Government Association said the coronavirus pandemic has exposed the level of pressure on low income families, with many councils across England and Wales spending more than their allocated pot to help struggling benefit claimants.
Department for Work and Pensions data shows Luton Borough Council paid £605,300 in Discretionary Housing Payments in 2020-21.
The cash is intended to provide those already in receipt of housing benefits with extra help such as covering rent shortfalls or the costs of moving.
It means Luton Borough Council spent 62% of the £981,846 pot given to the authority by the Government.
Across England and Wales, councils spent £171 million on Discretionary Housing Payments, with 103 of 327 local authorities spending above the Government’s contribution despite a £40 million increase in funding on the previous year.
A spokesman for the LGA said: "The fact that many councils put additional funding into Discretionary Housing Payments on top of their government allocation during a year when we have seen other protections brought in due to the Covid-19 pandemic, such as a ban on evictions and the £20 per week increase to Universal Credit, shows the level of pressure likely to be on low-income households.
“We are concerned about what the impact the removal of these protections will have on low-income households, many of whom have built up debt and arrears during the pandemic."
They added that Discretionary Housing Payment funding for the current year had dropped back to pre-pandemic levels.
“The LGA would like to see a review of the Discretionary Housing Payment scheme, alongside other safety net funding, to ensure councils have adequate, sustainable funding and can provide a safety net for their residents without seeing other services affected,” the spokesman said.
The Government said it has taken unprecedented action to protect renters during the pandemic, including banning evictions and increasing the local housing allowance rates, used to calculate housing benefits.
A DWP spokesman said: "Support for private renters is significantly higher than it was before the pandemic, as a result of us increasing and maintaining local housing allowance rates in recent years.
"We have also provided over £1 billion in Discretionary Housing Payment funding since 2011 to support thousands of families."