Portfolio Holder – Councillor Sophie Meudec
This report sets out the impact of the reduction in the level of Discretionary Housing Payment grant for 2018/19.
73.1 Councillor Meudec explained that the amount of Discretionary Housing Payment funding from the government varied from year to year and that as a result of a reduced funding allocation for 2018/19 an overspend of £100,000 was predicted. Discretionary Housing Payments were an important way of protecting residents from the worst impacts of welfare cuts and changes by preventing homelessness and helping people to move into more appropriate accommodation.
73.2 Councillor Meudec explained that the report proposed that the Council make an allocation of additional funding to the Discretionary Housing Payment Fund to allow the current level of spending to be maintained during the 2018/19 financial year, whilst also amending the policy for 2019/20 to reduce the amount of additional funding needed. Councillor Meudec explained that it was proposed that a viability review of Rent Deposit and Rent Advance Schemes take place and referred members to the addendum which amended recommendation 13.3 to clarify this.
73.3 In accordance with Standing Orders Part 3 Section 3 Paragraph 3.5, the following question was asked:
Question 1 – Councillor Fisher
‘Discretionary Housing Payments are an essential part of the assistance available to those most in need and a vital service of the Council. Given the cuts imposed by Central Government over the past few years it was no surprise that the grant for these was reduced. Why then have the Administration waited until the grant money is mostly spent before realising that additional funds would be needed and if the administration didn't expect to need extra funds why has more attention not been paid to keep to the budget available?’
Councillor Meudec explained that Discretionary Housing Payments were the last line of defence for Ipswich residents affected by the huge cuts in benefits imposed by the Government since 2010. Councillor Meudec commented that these cuts were continuing and that more were likely to follow despite recent Government announcements.
Councillor Meudec noted that the Government had historically used Discretionary Housing Payments to ease the worst hardship caused by the cuts to benefits and so it was actually very surprising that the Discretionary Housing Payments budget had also been cut this year, considering the continuing benefits cuts and the introduction of Universal Credit. Councillor Meudec commented that the Government either believed, in her view mistakenly, that these would not cause further hardship or didn’t consider their impact to be important.
Councillor Meudec reported that the Council’s priority had been to spend 100% of its Discretionary Housing Payments allocation on helping residents affected by benefits cuts. This, she noted, was in contrast to some other councils, for instance, one in Suffolk which had returned £60,000 to the Government unspent.
Councillor Meudec said that the Discretionary Housing Payments budget was kept under review but that this was the first time that demand had so significantly out-stripped the available budget. Councillor Meudec commented that the half year point was the appropriate time to consider whether there was likely to be sufficient funding going forward.
Councillor Meudec was pleased that for 2018/19 the Council could supplement the government grant in order to reduce hardship for Ipswich people caused by the government’s policies, but said that the Council could not afford to do this indefinitely and so Executive was being asked to consider changes to the policy and support offered to mitigate the impact in future years.
73.4 Councillor Ross thanked Councillor Fisher for recognising that cuts had been made to benefits and that these had placed additional pressure on the Council.
73.5 Councillor Jones explained that she was unhappy that the Council was having to reduce the support it currently offered as a result of Government cuts. Councillor Jones commented that there was nothing more stressful than the threat of losing a home and that the Government was putting more people through this ordeal.
73.6 Councillor Ellesmere echoed Councillor Meudec’s comment regarding the cut of the Discretionary Housing Payments grant, saying that it had not been expected that this would reduce whilst the cumulative impact of cuts was still growing.
It was RESOLVED:
i. that the Head of Finance and Revenues be authorised to allocate an additional £100,000 from the Housing Benefit Reserve to the Discretionary Housing Payment budget for 2018-19. This fund was to be drawn upon to meet such additional expenditure as is deemed necessary.
Reason: In order to meet the needs of our customers and to minimise homelessness and significant hardship.
ii. that the revised Discretionary Housing Payment Policy be approved, to take effect from 1st April 2019
Reason: To provide greater flexibility in determining and maintaining awards and to include a requirement that customers use such DHP awards to provide the short term assistance to make reasonable household adjustments necessary to relieve poverty experienced and move towards managing their household expenses without further additional assistance.
iii. that officers be authorised to undertake a viability review of Rent Deposit and Rent Advance Schemes to further support the work of the Council in meeting its obligations under the Homelessness Reduction Act.
Reason: To build upon the Rent in Advance Scheme and preserve the DHP fund for short term financial assistance to maintain existing housing whilst affected by Local Housing reforms, Welfare reforms, health or disability, or short term financial issues.
iv. that the potential for an ongoing requirement for additional funding, beyond the current financial year, be noted.
Reason: To aid financial planning.