Northumberland housing benefit applicants are waiting more than the legally advised response time for claims to be completed, data shows

New housing benefit applicants in Northumberland are having to wait more than two weeks for their claims to be processed, which is beyond the legally advised response time.

Between April 2017 and March 2018, new claimants waited on average 16 days before their application was completed, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions. However, this includes those which are received incomplete and extra information has had to be requested after the receipt of the application form.

Northumberland’s figure is 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 14 days of receiving all the information and supporting evidence it requires, or as soon as is practical.

According to the figures, Northumberland County Council processed 5,670 new cases over the 12-month period.

In total, there were 21,971 housing benefit claimants in the county in February 2018, which is the latest publicly available data.

During the previous year, applicants had to wait the same time.

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.

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

Those applications took on average just three 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 Northumberland 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.”

Source data: https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/housing-benefit-statistics-on-speed-of-processing-2017-to-2018