Housing benefits are set to change next week as part of the welfare system reforms and Scottish Borders Council has been looking at how best to use their resources.
With the prospect of housing benefit being cut by 14 per cent if the household has one bedroom not in permanent use, or cut by 25 per cent if there are two empty bedrooms, the council anticipate increased demand for their Discretionary Housing Payments. Over 1,100 households in the Borders could be affected by the changes, and SBC has set aside £58,180 on top of the £170,470 (increased from £38,787 for 2012/13) being provided by the Department of Work and Pensions for extra housing benefit in the coming year.
The council “has full discretion over who can receive DHPs and the amount and duration of the payment”. So far the DHP has been used to help out tenants on a short term basis in times of emergency but councillors are being asked to approve a shift in emphasis for the council’s discretionary housing payments. Officers stress that “the emphasis on short term assistance has been removed from the 2013 guidance to allow specifically for foster carers or people whose properties have been significantly adapted to accommodate their disability and are affected by the welfare system changes.”
A list of 12 criteria has been drawn up on which to base decisions on DHPs payments. The council however, reserves the right to: “advise the claimant to reduce expenditure if it is unreasonably high. It may also be reasonable to expect the claimant to reduce expenditure on non-essential items, such as mobile phones, cable/satellite television, cigarettes, entertainment and leisure activities.”