Shropshire Council received more than half a million pounds in funding from the ministry of housing last year. The funding was for Discretionary Housing Payments, which help those struggling to meet housing costs, including advance rent and removal bills and people that need a top up to ensure benefits cover the rent charged.
What did the council do with its £531,974 grant? It sent more than half of the money back to Whitehall.
I’ll pass that by you again. Shropshire Council thinks that there is so little need for short term housing support in our county it thinks it has the luxury of sending money back to the government. It gave back £300,000 last year. Only six out of more than 300 councils in England and Wales give back a higher proportion of their grant. This scandal is hurting people in Shropshire who struggle with housing costs. Yet you won’t find any information about it on the council website.
The numbers that highlight this scandal are buried deep in the accounts of Shropshire Council.
The Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP) scheme encourages local authorities to make payments to people who qualify for housing benefit or the housing costs element of universal credit short term help with housing costs if they are experiencing financial difficulty. It is one of the most important support grants for people struggling with housing costs.
There are 347 local authorities in England and Wales in receipt of Discretionary Housing Payments funding from central government. They spent 95% of the government grant. In Shropshire, only 44% was spent. Nearly three-quarters of a million pounds was returned to Whitehall. That’s money that should have been spent on giving people in need short term help with their housing costs.
Other councils do better. Of the 346 local authorities administering DHP funds, only six return a higher percentage of the grant money to central government than Shropshire.
The council says: “Shropshire Council has a limited amount of money available to spend [on DHP].” But it is not even spending half the money it has. A council committee concluded in 2014 that “it is important to ensure the use of Shropshire’s allocation is maximised to support the need of Shropshire tenants.” That recommendation has clearly been ignored.
Perhaps Shropshire Council believes that there are no people in need of support in the county. More likely, it has stripped back resources and made the application criteria too tight. How can a council give back a gift from the government intended to help struggling people cannot be spent in our county?
It is scandalous that over the last four years Shropshire Council has returned nearly half of the money it has been given for DHP payments to the government (44%; £716,467). Four years ago, the council was spending four fifths of the DHP gran. That wasn’t good enough. Now it is now spending less than half the grant and sending most of it back to the government. That’s a disgrace.
Is this typical of councils across England and Wales? Not by a long mile. Just six local authorities spent a lower proportion of their DHP funds than Shropshire. The graph below shows just how poorly Shropshire Council performs compared to other councils.
Across England and Wales, 145 councils returned more than 2% of DHP money to the government in 2017/18. But as the graph above shows, Shropshire Council is one of the worst offenders returning more money than any of our near neighbours. Fifty councils top up their DHP grant, some by more than 25%.
In absolute terms, Shropshire has the fifth largest underspend in England and Wales last year, sending nearly £300,000 back to government of its £531,974 grant.
Shropshire Council is pretty much broke. So why is it giving money back to Whitehall when it is desperately needed by struggling people in our county? I can only conclude that the council’s leaders have abandoned their public duty to support some of the most vulnerable people in our community.
Obviously in the council’s view austerity has not hit Shropshire. That’s not what we see day-to-day as councillors. Shropshire Council should hang its head in shame at its failure to support people struggling with housing in our county.
. My thanks to Lib Dem leader Roger Evans for alerting me to the growing scandal of Shropshire Council failing to help people in housing need across the county..
. There are 347 local authorities in England and Wales. However, the Isles of Scilly only received £227 in 2017/18 and didn’t spend it. I have excluded that authority.
. I have taken 2% as a reasonable underspend or overspend in a demand driven service.
. Councils that topped up DHP by more than 25% in 2017/18: Monmouthshire, Gateshead, Runnymede, Westminster, Liverpool, Greenwich, Kensington and Chelsea and Croydon.
. The top five underspending authorities in cash terms are Sunderland, £639,916 (61%); Wiltshire, £349,788 (45%); Dudley, £321,843 (39%); North Lincolnshire, £311,308 (78%); Shropshire, £297,119 (56%). Of our near neighbours: Hereford underspent by £116,852 (38%); Wyre Forest, £42,657 (20%); Malvern Hills, £11,879 (10%); Cheshire East, £39,106 (7%); Telford and Wrekin, £1,759 (0.3%); Powys, £55 (0%); South Staffordshire, £0 (0%). Cheshire West spend £21,625 more than it was granted (3%).