Mansfield council taking too long to process new Housing Benefit claims, says charity

Mansfield district Council
Mansfield district Council

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

Between July and September 2018, new claimants waited 17 days on average before their application was completed, Department for Work and Pensions data shows.

Although the figure is below the British average of 22 days, including weekends - but Mansfield District Council says that much of the delay is caused by tenants failing to provide them with the necessary information in time.

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.

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

According to the figures, the local authority processed 639 new cases during the three month period.

In total, there were 10,709 housing benefit claimants in Mansfield in that time.

During the same three months in 2017, applicants had to wait longer, with an average delay of 23 days.

Matthew Geer, campaigns manager at Turn2Us, said: "The longer people are waiting for their Housing Benefit, the more likely they are to get into rent arrears, face eviction and in some cases end up homeless.

"Housing Benefit is a necessity in this time of high rents and minimal social housing. We are seeing a concerning rise in rent arrears as more and more people are being pushed into poverty.

"It needs to be processed and paid efficiently to avoid renters ending up in vulnerable situations."

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.

Mansfield 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 eight days to complete.

A DWP spokesman said: "We spend around £23 billion a year on housing benefit - more than any other OECD country as a proportion of GDP.

"We work directly with each local authority to monitor housing benefit performance and will continue to work closely with local authorities as Universal Credit rolls out."

The Government has rolled out Universal Credit in Mansfield, which aims to replace benefits such as housing benefit, Jobseeker's Allowance and child tax credits. These figures include only people who were receiving the old housing benefit payments.

Eve Allsop, financial services manager at Mansfield District Council, said: “We start processing claims within one to three days of them coming in and we are pleased the statistics show that Mansfield District Council is processing Housing Benefit claims five days faster than the national average.

“We are also pleased that the figures show that we are processing claims six days quicker than for the same period in 2017. Naturally, new claims take longer than claims dealing with changes in circumstances as you have to process more information in new claims.

“Housing Benefit regulations state that we must make a decision on a claim within 14 days of receiving a complete claim or as soon as reasonably practicable.

“A claim is not complete until we have received all the information needed for us to make our decision and this is where any delays tend to occur - because we are waiting for information from the claimant.

“This data here is looking at the entire claim journey from the point the claim is first received to the date a decision is made on it and so includes any time taken by claimants to provide the required information.

“The benchmarking data does not therefore correlate with Housing Benefit claim rules that state the 14-day time limit kicks in after a complete claim has been submitted.

“At the same time, Housing Benefit regulations ask us to make a decision on a claim within 14 days, but also ask us to allow one month (or longer if reasonable to do so) for claimants to reply with information.

“We make every effort to speed things along if we can by accessing information we need ourselves if possible.

“We also help vulnerable claimants to provide what is needed and allow them extra time to reply where necessary so that they do not lose out on benefit.

“We do everything within our power to prevent hardship, working closely with support workers and claimants’ landlords to prevent homelessness. We also signpost claimants to other services that may be beneficial to them.”