MSP hits out as housing emergency payments rocket in East Dunbartonshire
Emergency housing payments to council tenants in East Dunbartonshire have rocketed over the past year.
A local MSP has described the figures as “shocking”.
East Dunbartonshire Council was one of the first five local authority areas in Scotland to roll out Universal Credit from November 2016.
It made 700 discretionary housing benefit (DHP) decisions in 2017/18 – a rise of 64 per cent on the previous year.
Council boss Thomas Glen told the Herald: “East Dunbartonshire Council’s Discretionary Housing Payment fund expenditure was £680,264 in 2017/18.
“This is an increase of 34 per cent on the previous year, with applications received rising by 13 per cent.”
Strathkelvin and Bearsden MSP Rona Mackay described the news as “shocking”.
She said: “This shocking figure clearly relates to the roll out of Universal Credit as Kirkintilloch was one of the first areas to pilot this ill-thought out Tory benefit change.
“The fact that claimants have to wait six weeks before receiving benefit is an absolute disgrace.
“How are people expected to live? This has clearly had an effect on discretionary housing payments, and is also related to the rising number of food bank use.
“This is not rocket science. The Tory Government at Westminster should be ashamed of causing such misery to people trying to raise their families and put food on the table.
“They should now admit that they got it wrong and reverse this cruel scheme.”
East Dunbartonshire spent well over its allocation for discretionary housing payments compared to other councils in Scotland.
In total, Scottish Councils made 122,660 emergency housing benefit payments to tenants in 2017/18
Councils awarded £59.2m in discretionary housing payments (DHPs) after processing 130,024 decisions – a seven per cent rise on the previous year.
The Scottish Government uses DHP funding to effectively eliminate the impact of the bedroom tax – a housing benefit penalty which sees social tenants docked benefits if they are deemed to have a spare room.
The emergency payment is usually given to households in severe housing stress, typically as a result of welfare reform.
The budget for DHP spending in Scotland in 2017/18 included £10.9m on general housing and £47m for mitigating the bedroom tax, meaning the budget was slightly overspent.
The Scottish Federation of Housing Associations has warned that the budget could be overwhelmed by need.
Graeme Brown, director of Shelter Scotland, said: “These figures show a seven per cent increase in the number of applications made by households across Scotland for help with their housing costs.
“Local authorities assessed a total of 130,024 applications from people struggling to make ends meet and keep a roof over their heads.
“These payments are a vital lifeline to families and individuals suffering housing-related poverty as a result of harsh welfare reforms, the roll-out of Universal Credit, zero-hour contracts, stagnant wages and the high cost of housing