New housing benefit applicants in Lancaster are having to wait almost a month for their claims to be processed, which a charity has warned could lead to homelessness.
Between April 2017 and March 2018, new claimants waited on average 27 days before their application was completed, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).
That’s above the British average of 22 days, which includes weekends.
The 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 two weeks, or as soon as is practical.
According to the figures, the local authority processed 537 new cases over the 12-month period.
In total there were 6,330 housing benefit claimants in Lancaster in February 2018.
During the previous year applicants had less time to wait with an average delay of 25 days. 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.
Lancaster was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances.
Those applications took on average just six days to complete. 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 £23bn 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.”