Lone parents whose benefits are cut by the ‘bedroom tax’ will be excluded from a £2m hardship fund to help Manchester residents hit by the welfare changes.
The exclusion is described in Manchester City Council papers outlining its ‘discretionary housing payment’ (DHP) policy. Like many other authorities this is being revised in the run up to the government’s controversial refom.
As the Government’s £155m DHP hardship fund is ‘discretionary’, councils are free to decide how to make the best use of their share. Manchester has the 13th highest budget in Great Britain.
According to Manchester’s new policy, absent parents will only be ‘rarely’ considered for discretionary payments and only when applicants are threatened by difficulties which are likely to be ‘short-lived’.
Manchester says it recognises the difficulties faced by absent parents caring for children who usually live with their estranged partner. However, the new benefits system does not provide for such a ‘common situation’ it adds. Its policy shake-up was initiated as the authority realised its DHP budget fails to fully cover its residents’ predicted benefit losses.
The city authority has however prioritised payments to foster carers. ‘From April 2013 there will be claimants in social sector accommodation who are foster carers but see a substantial reduction in their housing benefit because the needs of the fostered child(ren) are ignored in the criteria for the size of property appropriate,’ it states. ‘This will also be the case for approved foster parents who do not currently have a child placed with them.
‘We would expect to make discretionary payments based on the number of children being fostered to these claimants as long as they are current foster carers or it is likely that a child would be fostered with them in the near future, typically within six months.’
LGC analysis of revised DHP policies reveals that a number of potentially controversial uses of the hardship fund are being explored.
As reported last week, Labour-run Brent LBC plans to offer 150 benefit recipients with large families one-off payments of £6,500 to move out of the borough, under a proposed £1m ‘new start’ scheme for those hit 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.
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.
Jeff Smith (Lab), Manchester City Council’s executive member for finance, said it expected a “significant spike” in discretionary housing payment applications throughout the next year because of the Government’s welfare reforms.“Thousands of people will be affected across Manchester, penalised because of a variety of personal circumstances. Given the finite resource available to support residents, the awards we are able to give will be limited in their value and duration,” he added. ““This means the DHP fund can never be a cover-all, long term solution to everyone’s financial predicament – and we will need to look at each application individually to ensure the fund can support as many people as possible.”
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