Doncaster residents waiting 'three weeks' for housing benefit applications to go through

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New housing benefit applicants in Doncaster are having to wait three weeks for their claims to be processed, government statistics show.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, new claimants waited on average 21 days before their application was completed, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions.

Councils are legally required to respond within two weeks, or as soon as is practical.

Charity Turn2Us said people can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness.

A report shows Doncaster is slightly below the British average of 22 days, which includes weekends.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 5,325 new cases over the 12 month period.

In total there were 21,505 housing benefit claimants in Doncaster in February 2018, which is the latest publicly available data.

During the previous year applicants had to wait longer with an average delay of 22 days.

Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, are on a low income or other benefits, and if their savings are below £16,000.

The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms.

Doncaster was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances.

Those applications took on average just six days to complete.

The charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, has warned that delays in processing benefits can have a serious impact on the applicants' lives.

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications, said: "Housing benefit is not a luxury people can afford to wait for.

"It is not good enough that the average wait is almost twice as long as the legal requirement and with the minimum wait for Universal Credit at 35 days, people are simply being dragged into a waiting game that they cannot afford.

"At best, these delays and long waiting times are leaving people on the brink of losing the roof over their head and at worst are pushing people into homelessness.”

Steve Mawson, Chief Financial Officer and Assistant Director of Finance, said: “Doncaster’s performance for processing claims compares favourably with local authorities across our region and nationally and we continue to do all we can to help our customers with their applications.

“Delays in processing claims can take place where we need further information or evidence to support an application and the customer has up to one month to supply this. This need for additional information can affect the average processing time reported.”

A DwP spokeswoman 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 this includes the speed of processing which has remained stable over a number of years."

The Government has rolled out Universal Credit in Doncaster, which aims to replace legacy benefits such as housing benefit, Jobseeker's Allowance and child tax credits. However some claimants still receive the old housing benefit payments, who are referred to in this data set.

The spokeswoman added: "We will continue to work closely with local authorities as Universal Credit rolls out.