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DISCREPANCIES REVEALED IN HOUSING BENEFIT SUPPORT SERVICES FIGURES

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A study carried out in 36 local authority areas, reliant on information supplied by the authorities, was found to h...
A study carried out in 36 local authority areas, reliant on information supplied by the authorities, was found to have undercounted the number of people receiving housing benefit to pay for support services by an estimated 260%.

The Guardian (Society, p35) reports that as reform of funding for supported housing for elderly and other vulnerable people will depend on councils identifying all such people, and obtaining full details of their accommodation from the varied providers of supported housing, the challenge looks substantial.

The research suggests that as many as two in three popele receiving housing benefit for support services are being overpaid under the present rules, while more than one in four is being underpaid.

Overpayments are estimated to amount to£420m a year; underpayments to£200m. On audit grounds alone, the status quo is patently untenable.

But the study warns: 'The identification of housing benefit claimants in supported accommodation was hampered by the variable level of awareness in this sector in local authorities, differences in the understanding of which schemes and which types of charges would be affected by housing benefit regulations, and staff resources which limited the time which local authorities felt could be dedicated to this task.'

The government intends to introduce a new funding system similar to that for community care, by which local authorities would given cash-limited budgets to pay for support services in place of housing benefit and other state sources.

Kathleen Boyle, policy officer at the National Housing Federation, says the study offers a salutary warning: 'Putting a new system into practice is going to depend on finding all the people living in supported housing. The research shows how important it is to do that, but how difficult.'

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