Gosport Borough Council spent fraction of 'needed' housing benefit in Covid pandemic despite taking tenant to court over rent shortfall

A COUNCIL that spent barely a fifth of a benefit fund designed to help people struggling to pay rent took one of its own tenants to court.

Friday, 24th September 2021, 4:55 am

Both Portsmouth and Fareham councils spent over their government allocation in Discretionary Housing Payment during the pandemic in a bid to reduce homelessness.

The benefit gives people a lifeline, helping cover their rent shortfalls when other benefits are capped or rents are too pricey.

But analysis of government figures by The News found that in the year to March 2021, Gosport Borough Council awarded just 22 per cent of its allocation. Some £27,489 was given to 59 people.

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Councillor Peter Chegwyn. Picture: Malcolm Wells (170504-2460)

The authority took a tenant to possession court over arrears built up from his £15 weekly shortfall and won the right to evict him - before pulling back and agreeing to stop if he applied for DHP.

Opposition leader Peter Chegwyn said it was ‘strange’ that neighbouring authorities spent more than their allocation but Gosport had not.

He said: ‘It’s crazy. There’s people who need this support. The government targeted it for those most in need and if Gosport fails to spend the money it goes back to the government.

‘Then we’ve got people ending up in court who could’ve been helped to stay out of court.

‘Every case is filled with real human misery and they’re not scroungers - they’re decent people and they need the support and Gosport is not spending the money.’

In the case observed by The News, a tenant taken to court racked up more than £1,400 in rent arrears after his Universal Credit was cut due to the spare bedroom tax.

He was supposed to pay £103.63 a week in rent, but only gets £89.12 from Universal Credit.

The council was granted a possession order at one hearing – paving the way for an eviction.

At a second hearing attended by The News the borough council agreed to suspend the warrant – if he applied for DHP.

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At Havant Justice Centre, a judge agreed to suspend the warrant if the tenant applied for DHP to cover the £15 shortfall.

The tenant agreed to do so, and must pay a £121 warrant fee and £15 extra on his rent to start paying back the arrears.

In the year to March, Portsmouth City Council spent 105 per cent of its allocation, while Fareham spent 107 per cent.

Havant made 203 awards, spending 92 per cent of its allocation.

Asked why Gosport council had only spent 22 per cent in the period of crisis brought on by Covid lockdowns, a spokesman said: ‘Since the first lockdown in March 2020, we haven't refused anyone who applied for DHP and met the eligibility criteria.

‘We make sure that people who might need DHP are aware of it – for instance, when they qualify for housing benefit, or if they tell us they're in financial difficulty.

‘But we didn't have enough applications from eligible people in this period to use up our allocation.

‘DHP can only be applied for if your rent is more than the amount you're entitled to in housing benefit or the housing element of universal credit.’

A message from the Editor, Mark Waldron

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