Sunderland housing benefit applicants are waiting almost three weeks for claims to be completed

Housing benefit claims are taking up to three weeks.
Housing benefit claims are taking up to three weeks.
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New housing benefit applicants in Sunderland are having to wait almost three weeks for their claims to be processed, new figures have revealed

Between April 2017 and March 2018, new claimants waited on average 20 days before their application was completed, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions.

That’s slightly below the British average of 22 days, which includes weekends.

This waiting time can be worrying for applicants, and the charity Turn2Us said they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness.

Councils are legally required to respond within two weeks, or as soon as is practical.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 6,517 new cases over the 12-month period.

In total there were 29,240 housing benefit claimants in Sunderland in February 2018, the latest publicly available data.

Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, are on a low income or other benefits, and if their savings are below £16,000.

The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms.

Sunderland was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances.

Those applications took on average just six days to complete.

The charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, has warned that delays in processing benefits can have a serious impact on the applicants’ lives.

Pritie Billimoria, head of communications, said: “Housing benefit is not a luxury people can afford to wait for.

“It is not good enough that the average wait is almost twice as long as the legal requirement and with the minimum wait for Universal Credit at 35 days, people are simply being dragged into a waiting game that they cannot afford.

“At best, these delays and long waiting times are leaving people on the brink of losing the roof over their head and at worst are pushing people into homelessness.”

A DWP spokeswoman said: “We spend around £23billion a year on housing benefit – more than any other OECD country as a proportion of GDP.

“We work directly with each local authority to monitor housing benefit performance and this includes the speed of processing which has remained stable over a number of years.”

The Government is currently rolling out Universal Credit across the country, however Sunderland did not have full service when this data was recorded. Claimants applying for housing benefit under Universal Credit have to wait five weeks, which includes a four week assessment period.

The spokeswoman added: “We will continue to work closely with local authorities as Universal Credit rolls out.”