‘Bedroom tax’ crisis money is unclaimed

This Is Lancashire: Bury Town Hall Bury Town Hall

HUNDREDS of thousands of pounds allocated to help Bury residents hit by welfare reforms went unclaimed last year.

Less than one fifth of a fund designed to help hard-up householders in the borough was used, according to government figures.

Bury Council says the reason for the low figure was due to a “lack of claims made”.

Now more than half of the fund has been spent, and the remaining funds are on course to be distributed, says the council.

In the first six months of 2012/13, the authority was shown to have spent only 16.6 per cent of the Discretionary Housing Payment fund.

The fund aims to help people adapt to government reforms including the spare room subsidy, dubbed the “bedroom tax” by opponents, and the introduction of the benefit cap.

The council had spent £53,939 from an allocation of £324,003, which left £270,063 remaining.

Across all North West local authorities, only Rochdale spent less, just 14 per cent of their allotted fund of £517,104.

But a Bury Council spokesman explained: “The amount of discretionary housing payments we had awarded after the first six months was relatively low, simply due to lack of claims made.

“We know, however, that there are vulnerable people in Bury who may be entitled to make a claim, and we have been pro-active in helping them to do so.

“Since September we have put extra staff resources into identifying potential claimants, working with our partners to do so, and carried out additional publicity campaigns.

“The latest figures show that we have now awarded £168,000, more than half, of the money we have available for discretionary housing payments. We are also on track to spend the remaining £156,000 of our allocation.”

Cllr James Daly, the deputy leader of the Bury Conservative group, said the figures were “worrying”.

He said: “It is worrying that only Rochdale council has spent less than Bury in the first six months of the year, from funds provided by the Government to help people hit by welfare reforms.

“Since becoming aware of up-to-date figures, it is pleasing that more of this fund has been allocated, but I would urge people who could benefit from this to contact the council as a matter of urgency.”

To qualify for discretionary housing payments, residents must be in receipt of housing benefit and/or council tax support, and the amount of housing benefit or council tax support must be less than the amount of rent or council tax residents are charged.

Councils in the North West collectively spent £5.9 million in the first six months of 2012/13 from a fund totalling £14.6 million.

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