New housing benefit applicants in Lancaster are waiting longer than legal response time

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New housing benefit applicants in Lancaster are waiting more than two weeks for their claims to be processed – beyond the legally advised response time.

Between January and March 2019, new claimants waited 16 days on average for their application to be completed, Department for Work and Pensions data shows. That’s below the average across Britain of 19 days including weekends. This waiting time can be worrying for applicants, and the charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, said they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness as a result.

Legal guidance states councils should respond to the claim within two weeks.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 146 new cases during the three month period.

Including existing recipients, there were 2,374 housing benefit claimants in Lancaster in that time.

During the same three months in 2018, applicants had to wait longer, with an average delay of 28 days.

Debby Mulling, Head of Engagement at Turn2us, said: “The longer people are made to wait for their Housing Benefit, the more likely they are to fall into rental arrears, face eviction and end up homeless.

“It is vital that in a time of high rents, low affordability and precarious housing arrangements all benefits are paid swiftly.

“Official measures clearly state that claims for Housing Benefit should be processed within 14 days. The Government needs to provide adequate support to councils so they can achieve this target.”

Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, their savings are below £16,000, and they are on low income or other benefits.

The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms. Lancaster was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances than those applying for the first time. Those applications took on average just six days to complete.

Coun Anne Whitehead, Cabinet member with responsibility for revenues and benefits, said: “The council acknowledges the importance of housing benefit to claimants and tries to deal with new claims as quickly as possible.

“In this regard our performance has improved dramatically over the last 12 months.

“Most working age claimants now receive their benefits via Universal Credit administered by the Department of Work and Pensions.

“However, the more complex cases are dealt with by the city council. There is an expectation that Housing Benefit will be paid within 14 days of receiving a claim, but this is dependent on the claimant providing all necessary information.

“However, in many cases the council has to request further information from the claimant, which delays payment.”

A Department for Work and Pensions spokesperson said: “Housing Benefit is administered by local authorities and the speed of processing has remained stable for a number of years. We work directly with each local authority to monitor performance.”