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Discretionary Housing Payments

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 9th March 2015.

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Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West 2:30 pm, 9th March 2015

What assessment he has made of the potential effect on people subject to the under-occupancy penalty of a reduction in funding for discretionary housing payments in 2015-16.

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

We have actually increased the funding for discretionary housing payments to help those who are affected by the removal of the spare room subsidy, and, as the Chancellor announced in the autumn statement, it will be protected in 2015-16.

Photo of Paul Flynn Paul Flynn Labour, Newport West

Does the Minister agree with the Child Poverty Action Group, which has said that any degradation of discretionary housing payments will threaten to “cut the parachute cord” that keeps so many vulnerable families from the homelessness and destitution created by the foul bedroom tax? Will he give an absolute guarantee that the payments will be not only maintained in real terms, but possibly increased when necessary, and ring-fenced?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

If the hon. Gentleman had listened to my answer, he would have heard me say that the level of discretionary housing payments relating to the removal of the spare room subsidy would be maintained in 2015-16, as the Chancellor said in the autumn statement. I listened carefully to the hon. Gentleman’s point of order about questions and answers last week. I think that my answer did relate to his question, and perhaps he should have listened to it.

Photo of Anne McIntosh Anne McIntosh Chair, Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee

What happens when district councils do not use the whole discretionary housing payment fund? Is it carried over? What steps is my hon. Friend taking to ensure that authorities spend the full amount that they are entitled to spend?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

That is a good question. Last year, two thirds of local authorities did not spend all the money that the Government allocated to them. If the money is not spent, it returns to central Government and to whence it came—that is, to the taxpayer

Photo of Andrew Gwynne Andrew Gwynne Shadow Minister (Health)

What has the Minister got to say to my constituent Mr Cocks, who has not only lived in his two-bedroom house in Denton for more than six decades, but was born there? This is not a house; it is his home. Last year he qualified for a discretionary housing payment, but he has been refused one for next year. Is this not yet another example of how cruel the bedroom tax can be, given that in a few years my constituent will be exempt from it anyway?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

As I have said, the Government have made discretionary housing payments available to local authorities so that they can take specific facts into account, because they are obviously better acquainted with what is happening on the ground. What I would say to the hon. Gentleman’s constituent is that he should talk to his local authority.

Photo of Greg Mulholland Greg Mulholland Liberal Democrat, Leeds North West

Will my hon. Friend and his Conservative ministerial colleagues stop blocking the Affordable Homes Bill tabled by my hon. Friend Andrew George and allow it to be passed before the end of this Parliament, so that some of these issues can be resolved?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

I am afraid that the estimated cost of the Affordable Homes Bill is about £1,000 million. As well as having to find the money to pay for it, the hon. Member for St Ives would have to identify the other benefits that would need to be cut to enable us to stay within the welfare cap to which both Government parties and the Opposition have signed up.

Photo of Helen Goodman Helen Goodman Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

Each year, local authorities are spending nearly £200 million on adapting properties for disabled people. Then the Government come along and try to move them out of those properties by imposing the bedroom tax. Will the Minister now admit that that is a prime example of Tory welfare waste?

Photo of Mark Harper Mark Harper Minister of State (Department for Work and Pensions) (Disabled People)

The hon. Lady still has not found anyone apart from herself to take up that slogan. She will know that £25 million of discretionary housing payment was made available specifically to support disabled people who are in adapted accommodation, so that the local authorities do not have to move them. That money is available, and local authorities should use it for the purpose for which it was intended.