Halton Council has spent a record amount of money last year helping people in housing difficulties.

The council shelled out more than £500,000 in discretionary housing payments (DHP) in 2018/19, with half going to people who found themselves in dire straits because of Universal Credit.

The £535,414 spent in DHP last year was almost a third more than the previous year and the third year in a row the total had increased. The total even outstripped the £518,310 the council paid out in 2014/15.

In a debate on the figures at Halton Council’s corporate policy and performance board on Tuesday, Cllr John Abbott complained that the local authority was “picking up the slack” for the “grotesque failings” of government policies like Universal Credit and the bedroom tax.

Of the 1,544 DHP awards made last year, 695 went to Universal Credit claimants, who received a total of £280,372.

The DHP scheme is intended to provide short-term support for people whose housing benefit or Universal Credit payments are unable to cover their rent.

Many applicants for DHP support also found themselves in trouble because of the “bedroom tax”, with £273,602 going to people affected by the policy.

This year, the council is on course to spend roughly the same amount on DHP, but the government grant that funds the awards has been cut by 12.5%, leaving the council to make up a potential shortfall of around £60,000.

Committee chair Cllr Robert Gilligan said: “It is absolutely criminal what’s happening to people out there and it’s unnecessary.”