Uttlesford District Council pressurised by rise in benefits

PUBLISHED: 09:24 03 July 2009 | UPDATED: 07:16 30 May 2010

A DRAMATIC rise in the amount of benefits being paid out to recession-hit families is putting added pressure on Uttlesford District Council (UDC). Claims for housing benefit, rent rebates and council tax assistance have risen by more than £1.2 million in

A DRAMATIC rise in the amount of benefits being paid out to recession-hit families is putting added pressure on Uttlesford District Council (UDC).

Claims for housing benefit, rent rebates and council tax assistance have risen by more than £1.2 million in 2008/09 compared to the previous year.

Chairman of the community and housing committee, Cllr Rod Chamberlain, said: "With out a doubt the increase in the number of people claiming benefits is down to the recession.

"We have seen people who have never had to ask for assistance before now having to claim benefits - it's a sad state of affairs."

The latest figures, obtained by the Broadcast under the Freedom of Information Act, show that UDC paid out almost £13.7 million in benefits in 2008/09.

Although much of this money is reclaimed from the Government, an element does have to be funded locally.

Cllr Chamberlain said that dealing with more applications did put "added strain" on the council, but insisted that genuine claims from people in the area were encouraged.

"Rents are still high and if an income has dropped or two incomes has become one, then it can put people into difficulty," he said.

"And despite the recession, council tax continues to go up. We have found that more people are applying for council tax benefit than ever before.

"People whose circumstances change and might need to claim should make contact with the council as soon as possible - there is no shame in it at all, it's just the way it is at the moment."

Housing benefit alone - the amount paid to people in the private rented sector - has risen by more than £700,000 in 2008/09 and now stands at £5.2 million. The year on year rise for the previous year was less than £200,000.

The biggest benefit spend is rent rebates to tenants in council properties which stands at about £5.3 million. The amount of council tax benefit paid to people in Uttlesford is £3.1 million.

Chairman of the finance and administration committee, Cllr Robert Chambers, said:

"Uttlesford is a well-off area but there is a small amount of the population that do require benefits. We will do all we can to ensure people have a decent standard of living.

"It does not draw on UDC's revenue account because most of the money we spend on providing benefits we get back from the government.

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