Third of local authorities forced to top up housing benefits

Data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has shown that around a third of councils in England have spent additional money topping up government housing benefits, in order to make up for new welfare changes.

The statistics revealed around 111 councils had spent £7.8 million to cover housing costs on top of what they had been allocated by the DWP. Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) enable councils to supply extra funding to people in financial difficulty with housing costs.

Figures show that Birmingham City Council, with the largest population in England, incurred the largest spend on top of its government grant. The council was issued over £3 million to cover discretionary payments, however official figures show it had spent a total of £4.4 million.

Meanwhile, North Lincolnshire was identified as significantly underspending, after it was allocated £240,930 but spent just £39,626.

Commenting on the data, Campbell Robb, chief executive of housing charity Shelter, said: “To fix this crisis for good the government must commit to building homes that people on lower incomes can actually afford to live in, and in the mean-time make sure families get the support they need to keep a roof over their heads.”

A spokesman for the DWP argued: "Local authorities are best placed to understand the needs of their residents, which is why we will have given them over £1 billion in funding by the end of this Parliament for those who need extra support transitioning to our welfare reforms.

"We work together with local authorities so they receive the funding required for their local areas' needs. Councils can also use some of their own grant funding to provide additional support."