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DWP chastised by auditors

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The Department for Work and Pensions has been scolded for failing to properly assess the “signficant burden” shifted on to authorities shoulders by its welfare reforms.

Margaret Hodge MP (Lab) said she was “astonished” the department appeared not to understand the wider impacts of its housing benefit reforms. “Significant administrative responsibilities have been lumped on local authorities, who are already suffering from cuts to their own budgets,” she said, following the publication of an in-depth National Audit Office study in to the effect of the benefit shake up.

“Reforms are placing additional administrative burdens on local authorities and could lead to risks for effective implementation,” the NAO report states.

The extra burden will chiefly come from processing increasing numbers of notifications about claimants’ circumstance changes. The 20 million notifications issued each year will increase under the reforms, the NAO predicts.

The report also points to problems with the discretionary housing payment regime- a hardship fund which councils can use to help housing benefit recipients who are struggling to pay their rent. “It is not clear how the overall level of funding has been determined or whether it is likely to be sufficient to tackle the effects of the reforms,” the auditors warn.

The NAO names three key areas on which the DWP needs to concentate further. The department should helping to raise awareness of the effect of the reforms on claimants, improve systems of delivering information to local authorities and developing a set of leading indicators, the auditors claim.

Margaret Hodge MP (Lab) said she was “astonished” that the department appeared not to understand the wider impacts of its housing benefit reforms. “Significant administrative responsibilities have been lumped on local authorities, who are already suffering from cuts to their own budgets,” she added.

Ms Hodge said the department’s reforms would cut payments to around 2 million of the poorest household. “There is a real risk of increased homelessness, which on top of the human cost will simply transfer costs to other public services.

“Cuts in payments will add uncertainty and increased hardship to the lives of individuals who are already struggling to get by.”

A spokesperson for the DWP said: “Our reforms restore fairness to a system that was left to spiral out of control.

“[They] will ensure that people on benefits can no longer live in expensive areas that working families not on benefits couldn’t afford.

“We are providing an additional discretionary fund of £190 million to help families in difficult situations. Our reforms restore fairness to a system that was left to spiral out of control.”

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