NEW housing benefit applicants in Herefordshire are having to wait almost month for their claims to be processed. And this could lead to eviction and possible homelessness according to a leading housing charity.

Between July and September last year, new claimants waited on average 29 days before their application was completed, according to data from the Department for Work and Pensions.

That's significantly above the British average of 22 days, which includes weekends.

This waiting time can be worrying for applicants, and the housing charity Shelter says they can be threatened with eviction and face homelessness.

Over the same period in 2016 applicants had to wait longer with an average delay of 30 days.

According to the figures, the local authority processed 510 new cases over the three months.

In total there are 10,236 housing benefit claimants in Herefordshire.

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 received differs depending on whether you rent from the council, or privately, your salary and whether you have any spare rooms.

Herefordshire was quicker at dealing with current claimants who had changed their living circumstances.

Those applications took on average two weeks to complete.

Charities have warned that delays in processing benefits can have a serious impact on the applicants' lives.

Polly Neate, Shelter chief executive, said: "Processing delays and admin errors mean landlords are increasingly reluctant to let to anyone on housing benefit.

"On top of that payments are too low and completely out of synch with the cost of private rents. This has left too many struggling renters battling against the tide to keep a roof over their head.

"The government must ensure housing benefit is fit for purpose, and in the long-term build homes that people on lower incomes can genuinely afford to rent."

A spokeswoman for Turn2us, a charity which helps people in financial hardship gain access to welfare benefits, said: "People who apply for housing benefit or the housing costs element of Universal Credit do so because they need it.

"They need the support to keep a roof over their heads. That is why it is crucial that people receive this help as quickly as possible. It is what stands between them and homelessness."

A government spokesman said it constantly monitored local authorities' performance, and would intervene if it dipped below acceptable standards.

He commented: "The evidence shows that the time it takes for local authorities to process most new housing benefit claims has remained stable for a number of years and we would intervene if anything changed."

The government is currently rolling out Universal Credit across the country, however it had not reached Herefordshire when this data was recorded.

Claimants applying for housing benefit under Universal Credit have to wait five weeks, which includes a four week assessment period.