New applicants for housing benefit in Gainsborough and the rest of West Lindsey have been waiting almost three weeks for their claims to be processed, new figures have revealed.
Between July and September last year, new claimants waited 20 days, on average, before their applications were completed, according to Department of Work and Pensions (DWP) data.
This is below the British average of 22 days, which includes weekends. But legal guidance states councils should respond to claims within two weeks.
The charity, Turn2Us, which helps people with financial hardship to gain access to welfare benfits, says the waiting time can be worrying. Applicants can even be threatened with eviction and face homelessness.
Matthew Geer, campaigns manager for Turn2Us, said: “The longer people are waiting for their housing benefit, the more likely they are to get into rent arrears, face eviction and end up homeless.
“Housing benefit is a necessity in this time of high rents and minimal social housing.
“We are seeing a concerning rise in rent arrears as more and more people are being pushed into poverty.
“Benefit needs to be processed and paid efficiently to avoid renters ending up in vulnerable situations.”
The DWP figures disclose there were 6,911 housing benefit claimants in West Lindsey during the three-month period. Of these, the council processed 345 new cases.
A spokesman for the council pointed out that the waiting times for new claimants compared favourably with many neighbouring authorities.
He also stressed that West Lindsey was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances than those applying for the first time. These applications took, on average, just three days to complete.
A DWP spokesman said: “We spend about £23 billion a year on housing benefit. We work closely with local councils to monitor performance and will continue to work closely with them as Universal Credit rolls out.” Univeral Credit has now been rolled out in West Lindsey.