£900,000 pot for rent crisis families goes unspent in Camden, Haringey and Barnet

Camden, Barnet and Haringey have all failed to hand out thousands of pounds of government money which could have been spent on residents facing rent crisis and eviction.

Labour-led Camden and Haringey councils withheld £291,780 and £233,364 respectively, but Conservative-led Barnet held back £380,050, which it must now return to the Department for Work and Pensions.

The cash was given to the councils by central government to help families in crisis meet rent payments, but all have failed to spend their chunk of the £68million pot and have turned down numerous requests for the money.

A spokesman for Barnet Homes, the company contracted to manage the borough’s council housing, said: “Whilst there was an underspend in our discretionary housing payments budget for 2012/13, we spent over £500,000 in helping our customers remain in their homes.

“This figure is more than double that for the two previous financial years combined.

“We approved over 1,000 claims for discretionary housing payments in 2012/13. Once again this is more than for the previous two financial years combined.”

The borough started the year with just under £1million to spend but has refused 427 applications since July 2012. Of these, 14 have been successfully appealed.

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The money from the central government pot is divvied out to councils according to a formula – Camden received the smallest budget out of the three to help residents but still withheld £291,780.

Fellow Labour council Haringey started the year with £1million to spend but ended with £233,364 unspent.

A Haringey Council spokesperson said: “We assess applications for discretionary housing payment on a case-by-case basis, and in 2012/13 we paid out £813,900 to claimants needing support to meet housing costs.

“We encourage any residents with concerns about paying their rent to speak to our dedicated customer services team or the Citizens Advice Bureau for advice and further information.”

The councils were able to roll over their unspent cash from 2011/12 but this year must hand back the unspent money to the government.

A senior Camden Council source said it was difficult to predict how much cash it would need each year and criticised the government’s block on rolling over money.

However, he pointed to the fresh budgets for each council for the next financial year when Camden will receive £1.68million, Haringey £2.42million and Barnet just under £2million.

The government has increased the amount given to councils each year as benefit cuts squeeze low-income residents.

The amount handed down from government will rise from £60million to £155million to deal with the impact of universal credit and the total benefit cap.

Work and Pensions Secretary Iain Duncan Smith said: “Councils across the country have the expertise from working with benefit claimants every day to know exactly who needs extra support following our benefit reforms.

“However, I’m very clear that this £150million in funding must be spent appropriately and used to protect those who need it most.”

In Camden, requests for help are already soaring after cuts introduced this April.

The borough has already recceived 379 requests since April, compared with 598 for the whole of last year.