COUNCILS in the region have handed out more than £3m to households hit by housing benefit changes, but critics say the residents face a "postcode lottery" to get help.

North-East local authorities received £5.1m from the discretionary housing payment fund to help residents struggling to pay their rent following the changes, which included the introduction of the so-called bedroom tax.

Figures obtained by The Northern Echo reveal that the majority of councils in the region are on track to distribute all the money to needy families by the end of March.

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Durham County Council said it had spent £611,353 of the £883,089 it had been allocated, with 1,414 households being awarded payments so far.

Darlington Borough Council received £225,000 with all the money expected to be handed out, while Stockton Council has so far distributed £212,246 of the £395,220 it was given.

Hartlepool Borough Council is one of several authorities which handed out extra money beyond the £317,000 it received from the Government. In total, it has £405,000 to allocate.

Redcar and Cleveland has recently been handed an extra £85,000 on top of the £344,000 it originally received.

Despite criticism from Lib Dem councillors at the authority that not all the money would be used, George Dunning, leader of the council, said: “We’re confident that all of the £344,000 will be spent supporting those families that need financial help and meet the criteria.”

In North Yorkshire, Hambleton Borough Council received £85,775.00 and has already allocated £73,019.

The Government said it had tripled the discretionary housing payment fund to £180m to help people adapt to far reaching welfare reforms, such as the removal of the spare room subsidy.

A spokesman added: “The removal of the spare room subsidy ensures housing benefit pays for the size of property a household needs.”

But Monica Burns, from the National Housing Federation, said households in the North-East were facing a “postcode lottery” to get help.

"'Even those lucky enough to get support will have to reapply time and time again, each time facing the stress and worry that the funds will be withdrawn, while councils are being inundated with applications.

“This support fund is ineffective and deeply unfair - just like the bedroom tax itself. The only real solution is to repeal it.”

Stockton North MP Alex Cunningham added: “The payments are a drop in the ocean and the councils are really up against it to bring some relief to the families who are suffering.”