COUNCIL chiefs have defended their attempts to spend Government cash aimed at helping people struggling to pay their rent.

Pendle Council was allocated a pot of £142,000 to spend on Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) this financial year, but with just over three weeks of the year to go, £64,000 remains unspent.

And unless that money is given out before March 31, it will be returned to the Government.

Coun Mohammed Iqbal, leader of the Labour group on the council, said: “Coun Joe Cooney (council leader) is on the verge of returning money back to the Government due to this money not being spent.

“The point was highlighted to Coun Cooney months ago about him not keeping a finger on the pulse on this matter.

“Pendle Council has left it until now to make a plea to people to apply.

“He will more than likely be sending money back at a time when one in three requests have been refused.

“He needs to wake up and help people struggling across Pendle instead of returning money back to George Osborne.”

So far, 460 DHP cases have been processed, with 130 refused and 330 awarded, totalling £78,353.82.

Coun Cooney said: “We can’t force people to apply for this money.

“We have information on our website and have sent out press releases urging people to apply.

“But we can’t make people do so. We want to allocate the money but we have criteria we have to stick to in doing so.

“Councillors can do their bit by urging people in their ward who may need the help to apply.”

DHPs are designed to help those on Housing Benefit who have been affected by the welfare reform changes.

The council said that frontline staff had given advise to customers who appear to be suffering hardship, as well as running marketing campaigns and working with landlords who have had customers suffer from the ‘Bedroom Tax’.

Anybody wanting more information on DHPs can call the council on 01282 661800.