A councillor has blasted Stoke-on-Trent City Council after figures revealed it has spent just 16% of £1.7 million in three government grants designed to help poorer people.
Cllr Dave Conway said the authority was failing the most vulnerable people after he obtained figures showing it hadn’t given out hundreds of thousands of pounds available.
One figure shows the council spent just £257,000 of £548,000 from the Discretionary Housing Grant (DHG) in 10 months. This is given to tenants on housing benefit and struggling to pay rent.
If the cash is not spent within two months, it will go back to the government.
In September last year, a report showed the council had only dished out £821 to three applicants from the Council Tax Hardship fund out of £200,000 – despite receiving 172 applications.
And the city council has also been responsible for a £1 million social fund, formerly run by the Department for Work and Pensions designed to help people in financial crisis.
But they have only given out £32,000 of this fund to 512 applicants.
Cllr Conway, leader of the City Independents, told StaffsLive: “This is an absolute disgrace.
“They are not helping people who desperately need this money who could potentially become homeless.
“It has taken 10 months for them to spend less than half and now they have just two months before the government has it back.”
In Stoke-on-Trent, households previously exempt from council tax must now pay a minimum of 30% – one of the high levels in the country. Benefit claimants in Cheshire East and Newcastle-under-Lyme must pay 20%.
Cllr Terry Crowe, Stoke-on-Trent City Council cabinet member for finance, said people had spent their money on non-essentials like Sky TV rather than paying their council tax and added: “It would be wrong to support these lifestyle choices.”
But he said the money would be given to those in need and will be fully spent in the next two months after there had been a recent rush of applications.
He said: “I admit we didn’t do enough early on to make people aware this help was there.
“But in the last few months we have done more and a lot more people have applied.”
Gill Brown, chief executive of Brighter Futures, said it would be a tragedy that money given to help deal with the effects of bedroom tax and benefit cuts was not being used and could go back to government.
She said: “Leicester, for example, have already spent all their allocation and the government are going to give them more next year.
“Local authorities are not used to dealing with these kind of funds and the council has set the bar to high for applicants.
“Turning people down because they have Sky TV – have you tried to get out of one of these contracts?”
Dawn Jones, 53, from Meir, said she had been discouraged from applying after falling behind with her rent.
“I was hit by the bedroom tax and having to pay council tax for the first-time out of a £57 a week benefit,” she said.
“When I asked about this the council officer told me I could apply, but it was a waste of time because I wouldn’t get it!”
Watch StaffsLive’s video interview with Cllr Conway below.
(Video report by Charlotte Jones and Jack Hawkins)