The DWP has issued guidance to local authorities suggesting that newly sick or disabled claimants affected by the Benefit Cap should go into arrears rather than be awarded Discretionary Housing Payments to cover a shortfall in their rent whilst they await or appeal a benefit decision.
In a further callous move, the Department recommends that the most seriously sick and disabled claimants – who are appealing a decision made by the notorious Atos Work Capability Assessment not to place them in the Support Group – should not be provided with emergency housing payments to top up their rent whilst the appeal takes place.
Around 50,000 households, including 200,000 children, are currently staring homelessness in the face due to the cap on benefits which has made much of the South East of England unaffordable for families out of work. The Government have claimed sick and disabled people will not be affected by the cap, however only those in the Support Group of Employment Support Allowance (ESA), or those with a current claim for Disability Living Allowance (or its replacement PIP) are exempt.
Most claimants on out of work sickness benefits are in the Work Related Activity Group (WRAG) of ESA – meaning they have been assessed as being able to do some work, at some point, in the future. Unless this group of claimants qualify for DLA, which means they have specific costs associated with care or mobility, they are likely to have to leave their homes if they live in an in area affected by the cap.
Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are an ever shrinking pot of money which has been given to Local Authorities to support some of those facing homelessness due to the Bedroom Tax, Benefit Cap or other cuts to benefits.
“Where an appeal against a decision not to award an exempting benefit is
pending, the LA should bear in mind that a decision on entitlement has been
made and that the circumstances are not the same as a case where a
decision on entitlement is due. We would not recommend making a DHP
award unless there are mitigating circumstances.”
This means that newly sick and disabled people, such as someone recently diagnosed with cancer or other chronic illness and forced to leave work, will now also face losing their homes if their claim for ESA is wrongly assessed by the notorious IT company Atos. Meanwhile should councils follow the DWP’s suggestions newly disabled people who have had to give up their jobs will be plunged into rent arrears whilst an application for DLA is made. This process usually takes around six weeks – but can take longer. So those who are coping with not just a recent disability or serious illness, but having to give up work as well, can now add the threat of homelessness to the things they have to worry about.
There is no requirement on Local Authorities to follow this nasty guidance from the DWP and they are free to spend Discretionary Housing Payments any way they choose. With the paltry amount of money available shrinking year on year, many will be only too happy to follows these suggestions and socially cleanse newly sick and disabled people from their areas. They may even choose to go one step further. As the recommendations point out, the exemption to the Benefit Cap does not apply during the period of time whilst a claim for ESA is pending. Many councils are likely to interpret this guidance to avoid paying DHPs to anyone at all whilst they are awaiting an assessment for ESA – which can take months.
ESA claims for those with terminal illnesses are fast tracked in some cases, but claims for many other chronic and life changing conditions are not. If you live in London, or another high rent area, then do not expect what’s left of the welfare state to support you to stay in your home should you become seriously ill or disabled.
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