Cambridgeshire councils see rent problems increase after benefit changes

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The number of people asking for help with rent payments in the last few months has quadrupled in some areas, Cambridgeshire councils' data shows.

Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) are available to people in receipt of housing or council tax benefit.

Fenland District Council saw the largest rise with 170 applications between April and August, four times more than the same period last year.

The Citizens' Advice Bureau feared some councils may run out of DHP funds.

In April, the government removed the "spare room subsidy", meaning some people who claim housing benefit had to pay a proportion of their rent for the first time if they were deemed to have too many bedrooms for their needs.

DHP applications April to August 2012 and 2013

  • Fenland: 40 in 2012, 170 in 2013 - up 325%
  • Huntingdonshire: 74 in 2012, 267 in 2013 - up 260%
  • Cambridge City: 96 in 2012, 280 in 2013 - up 191%
  • Peterborough: 155 in 2012, 402 in 2013 - up 159%
  • South Cambs: 104 in 2012, 219 in 2013 - up 110%
  • East Cambs - complete data not available
'Lot of money'

Since then, applications for help meeting rent payments have increased across the board in Cambridgeshire, doubling or tripling in all council areas, and increasing four-fold in Fenland.

Sarah Bellow, from the Rural Cambridgeshire Citizens' Advice Bureau (CAB), said they had also seen an increase in people having problems meeting rent obligations.

"If you're on Jobseeker's Allowance of about £72 a week, and have one extra bedroom you're not using, you're going to have to find another £13 or £14 a week, and that's a lot of money," she said.

Under-occupancy and DHP queries to the CAB were up by about 70% in Fenland and 20% in Huntingdon, she said.

"DHP pots of money are not limitless.

"When that money's gone, it's gone. Even if you're entitled to a DHP, you won't get it, because the money won't be there."

But a spokesman for Fenland District Council said its budget from the government had increased to allow for the "significant rise" in DHP applications.

He said the increase could also be put down to the council "going to great lengths" to make people aware of the availability of the payments.

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