Labour-run Brent LBC will offer 150 benefit recipients with large families a one-off payment of £6,500 to move out of the borough, under a proposed £1m ‘new start’ scheme for those hit hard by welfare cuts.
In exchange for the payment, participants must accept they will not qualify for temporary accommodation in the borough for two years should they decide to return.
The aim of the policy proposal is to help large families in Brent whose tenancies ‘cannot be sustained in the long term due to family size and circumstance,’ according to a paper outlining the authority’s proposals. The intention is to ‘to keep their family together and make a new start in a more affordable area,’ it adds.
‘New start’ is being funded through the the government’s £155m ‘discretionary housing payment’ budget, a hardship fund councils can use to mitigate potential harms of the government’s welfare cuts. The fund has been increased from £60m to help councils cope with the reforms.
LGC analysis of this year’s budget shows Brent received the largest single increase in Great Britain, a sign the authority is one of the hardest hit by the reforms. It was awarded £4.8m in 2013-14 compared with £1.6m the previous year.
DHP schemes has until now been largely employed by authorities to award temporary top ups to benefit recipients experiencing short-term financial difficulties.
However, councils appear to be introducing a range on new uses for the fund as they prepare for the full force of the welfare reforms to kick, including the controversial £26,000 annual benefit cap and the so-called ‘bedroom tax’.
Milton Keynes Council and Kirklees Metropolitan Council have also attached strings to discretionary housing payments under set circumstances. Both will only award DHPs to residents with debt if they agree to seek advice on how to manage their money.
Milton Keynes’ policy was amended last year ‘to ensure that those that are helped because of financial difficulties start to take more responsibility for their own finances’.
‘To facilitate this there is an expectation that customers take reasonable steps to help themselves by working with third party agencies such as CAB to improve their financial and budgeting arrangements,’ council paper state.
Under Kirklees policy, discretionary housing payments to residents in ‘multiple debt’ situations will only be awarded ‘once the customer has attended a meeting with a debt advice professional,’ according to council papers.
A spokesman for Brent said its 2013-14 scheme for discretionary housing payments had not yet been finalised. ‘To date it has only draft proposals for consultation,’ he added.
‘The council will be reviewing its final scheme in the light of comments received, and further evaluation of practical issues and legal responsibilities.
‘However, the introduction of the welfare reforms will result in hardship for a large number of claimants in Brent. For some of these people, a move to a more affordable part of the country may be their only option if they are unable to find work.
‘Therefore the use of DHP funds to help them to achieve this will directly help them to alleviate their hardship, while being more cost-efficient than paying DHP to maintain them in more expensive accommodation which is unsustainable in the long-term.’
‘The homeless duty would of course come back to Brent if the person became homeless again within two years,’ he added.
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