New housing benefit applicants in Fife are waiting more than two weeks for their claims to be processed – and that’s beyond the legally advised response time.
Between January and March, new claimants waited 16 days on average for their application to be completed, Department for Work and Pensions data shows.
That’s below the average across Britain of 19 days – including weekends.
The delays can be worrying for applicants, and the charity Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, said they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness as a result.
Legal guidance states councils should respond to the claim within two weeks.
According to the figures, the local authority processed 811 new cases during the three month period.
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Including existing recipients, there were 12,944 housing benefit claimants in Fife in that time.
During the same three months in 2018, applicants had to wait longer, with an average delay of 21 days.
Debby Mulling, head of engagement at Turn2us, said: “The longer people are made to wait for their Housing Benefit, the more likely they are to fall into rental arrears, face eviction and end up homeless.
“It is vital that in a time of high rents, low affordability and precarious housing arrangements all benefits are paid swiftly.
“Official measures clearly state that claims for Housing Benefit should be processed within 14 days. The Government needs to provide adequate support to councils so they can achieve this target.”
Residents are eligible for housing benefit if they rent, their savings are below £16,000, and they are on low income or other benefits.
The amount applicants receive differs depending on whether they rent from the council, or privately, their salary and whether they have any spare rooms.
Fife was quicker at dealing with current claimants, who had changed their living circumstances, than those applying for the first time.
Those applications took on average just two days to complete.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “Housing Benefit is administered by local authorities and the speed of processing has remained stable for a number of years. We work directly with each local authority to monitor performance.”
The Government has rolled out Universal Credit in Fife, which aims to replace benefits such as housing benefit, Jobseeker’s Allowance and child tax credits. These figures include only people who were receiving the old housing benefit payments.