Under-occupancy Penalty

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 8th December 2014.

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Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington 2:30 pm, 8th December 2014

What estimate he made of the potential savings to the public purse that would arise from implementation of the under-occupancy penalty; and what estimate he has made of the amount saved to date by that implementation.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Before our reforms, the taxpayer had been paying for 820,000 spare rooms. To date, the policy has saved about £830 million from the housing benefit bill, and the estimated savings remain the same: approximately £500 million a year in 2013-14 and 2014-15. Those figures have been ratified by the Office for Budget Responsibility.

Photo of John Leech John Leech Liberal Democrat, Manchester, Withington

How many people have been forced to move from social housing into more expensive private rented accommodation, where the housing benefit bill has actually risen, and how much has it cost the Department?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Each local authority is dealing with this matter differently. We have given a huge amount of support, through the discretionary housing payments, so some will move, some will not, and some have had their rents dealt with and have stayed in place. We have trebled the support to £345 million, and more than 392,000 DHP awards were made last year. As I said, each authority is doing it differently. For example, Sheffield city council is using DHPs to pay removal costs and provide decorating, while Southwark and Islington councils are paying additional incentives through mutual exchanging with overcrowded households. They are all doing different things, but they are basically getting it right. We were warned that arrears would rise, but actually housing association arrears are lower than they were last year.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Research published last month by the Trussell Trust, Church Action on Poverty, the Church of England and another organisation—Oxfam—showed that more than half the rocketing demand at food banks was caused by problems in the benefits system, not least by the hated bedroom tax, but also by escalating payment delays, contrary to what the Minister for Disabled People, said a moment ago. Will the Tory welfare waste party now follow the U-turn its coalition partners took and realise that the bedroom tax has to go?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The right hon. Gentleman went a long way round to get to his usual comment, but most of his facts are incorrect. Let us get the facts right on benefit processing. Each year, we provide £94 billion in working age benefits, and benefits have been paid in arrears for the last 25 years, so there is not an unusual delay. People are often confused about whether or not there is a delay. On benefit processing times, 93% are processed absolutely on time, which is up seven percentage points since Labour left office. The vast majority of the delays are pre-decisions awaiting additional evidence. Of course there is more we can do. I am looking at a report today, and I am going to be positive about ensuring that we can do other things. I can thus announce today that we are looking to new measures committing the Department to raising much more awareness, as was asked for, of the short-term benefit advances. We are doing that through websites, on posters and by providing information in jobcentres. We are testing that and hoping to roll it out at the beginning of the new year. We are also issuing fresh guidance to advisers to make sure that they constantly advise those at risk of the availability, should they need it, of interim payments.

L

The sheer arrogance and condescension in this reply is astonishing.
Does IDS not think that the vast majority of claimants are aware that their payments are paid partially in arrears? To try and cloud the issue by making such a statement is, sadly, typical of the smoke & mirrors administration.
To add on, almost as an afterthought, the comment that "advisers are getting fresh guidance" is offensive on so many levels. I would have thought that adequately equipped advisers would have been high on the list of things he should do about the issues!

Submitted by Les Reed