Church housing campaigners are using Homelessness Sunday (26 January) to highlight the poverty being caused to millions of people around the UK by delays in the processing of housing benefit claims. While government guidelines state that all claims should be processed within 36 days, Sedgefield Council, in Tony Blair's own constituency, takes 105 days to process new housing benefit claims - putting it among the 20 worst performing local authorities. Hackney and Lambeth residents have to wait 225 days and 163 days respectively to have their claims processed. Many more boroughs miss the official target by months. The Homelessness Sunday Partnership, made up of the Catholic Housing Aid Society (CHAS), Churches National Housing Coalition and the Scottish Churches Housing Agency, claim that bureaucratic delays in paying housing benefit cause real suffering to some of society's most vulnerable people. Some 63% of housing benefit goes to disabled and elderly people. Les Ireland, Rector of St Peter's and St Andrew's, Levenshulme reports a typical case. He said: "We get a constant stream of people in our churches asking for money, whose benefit is taking a long time to come through. Certainly ten weeks plus is common." Robina Rafferty, director of CHAS, said landlords were within their rights to evict tenants if rent wasn't paid after three months. She said: "The current system is very complicated and difficult to administer. The result is that many people suffer great anxiety and some are in danger of losing their homes." She said CHAS believes that the government may have become too preoccupied with fraud and should put the welfare of often vulnerable citizens as its priority. Homelessness Sunday is a day of ecumenical prayer and action supported by all the major Christian denominations and Christian housing and homeless. Last year more than 2,500 churches took part, fundraising for more than 200 projects. There are a variety of events taking place around the country. The Bishop of Lancaster, Pat O'Donoghue, who is selling his Bishops Palace and giving the money to homeless schemes, will be celebrating a special Mass followed by a bread and cheese lunch in the social centre, with proceeds going to Lancaster Homeless Action. Parishioners at St Luke's Church in Redditch are doing a sleep out to raise funds for the homeless. In Sussex, Brighton and Hove Churches' Homelessness Network is organising a celebration at All Saint's Church, Hove, when Rabbi Eli Sarah will be among the speakers. For more information or a resource pack visit the CHAS website on: www.chasnational.org.uk/
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