Wigan Council spent more than its discretionary housing payments budget

Wigan Council spent more than its discretionary housing payments budget to support people with housing costs in the year to March, new figures show.
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Discretionary housing payments are paid by local authorities to cover shortfalls in residents' housing benefit or universal credit.

The Government has frozen housing benefit for the last three years, and Shelter said benefits must be uprated to track the dramatic increase in rent over the last few years.

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Discretionary housing payments are paid by local authorities to cover shortfalls in residents' housing benefit or universal creditDiscretionary housing payments are paid by local authorities to cover shortfalls in residents' housing benefit or universal credit
Discretionary housing payments are paid by local authorities to cover shortfalls in residents' housing benefit or universal credit
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The housing charity added discretionary payments are only a temporary solution and urged the Government to provide longer-term solutions, including building more affordable housing.

Department for Work and Pensions figures show Wigan Council spent £501,513 on discretionary housing payments in 2022-23.

However, it was allocated a budget of £436,756, meaning it spent 115 per cent of its allocation.

In 2021-22, the council spent 102 per cent of its budget.

Sonia Halliwell, the council’s director of customer, said: “The cost-of-living crisis is placing real pressure on thousands of local residents and millions of people across the country.

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“Through our Here For You campaign, we’re actively encouraging residents to apply for all the benefits to which they are entitled – including discretionary housing payments, which provide many people with short-term relief and the breathing space they need to get back on track.

“In 2022/23, payments made to residents in need of support exceeded the budget allocation with which we were provided by an additional 15 per cent – with 1,500 local people receiving help.

“Ensuring residents are able to stay in their homes is our top priority and we would encourage any resident experiencing difficulty in meeting their housing costs to get in touch. Residents can find more information on our website at Wigan.gov.uk/HereForYou.”

Across England and Wales, local authorities spent 115 per cent of their combined allocation, with 42 per cent of councils overspending their budget by more than five per cent.

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Just 11 per cent of authorities spent less than 95 per cent of their budget.

Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said the freezing of housing benefit means "desperate families are struggling to balance the books in the overpriced and insecure private rented sector".

Ms Neate said discretionary housing payments are needed to bridge the gap between housing benefit and rent, but added they are "only a sticking-plaster solution".

"If the Government really wants to tackle the housing emergency, the Chancellor must urgently unfreeze housing benefit to help families pay their rent," she added.

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"But the only long-term solution to the housing emergency is for the Government to invest in a new generation of genuinely affordable social homes, with rents tied to local incomes."

A Government spokesperson said nearly £1.6 billion in funding had been given to local authorities since 2011, "providing a safety net for people struggling with rent or housing costs".

They added: "We are set to spend over £30 billion on housing support this year, on top of the significant cost of living help worth around £3,300 per household.

"It is for councils to decide how to allocate funding and manage their budgets, and they can top up Government funding up to two and a half times using their own funds."