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Thursday, August 30, 2018

Housing benefit freeze starts to bite

There is a very disturbing report in the Independent, which quotes research from the Chartered Institute of Housing in claiming that low-income tenants are having to choose between eating, putting on the heating and paying rent due to a freeze in housing benefit meaning that it is failing to cover even the cheapest rents.

The Institute say that more than 90 per cent of Local Housing Allowance rates across the UK now fail to cover the cheapest 30 per cent of homes in any given area, as they were originally designed to do. As a result, this has put people in "desperate" situations and vulnerable to falling into homelessness:

Renters are facing gaps ranging from £25 a month on a single room in a shared home outside London, to more than £260 a month on one to four-bedroom homes in some areas of the capital, the report states.

With those gaps rising to £300 and £3,120 within 12 months, the CIH warned this made it increasingly likely that renters would be forced to choose between paying their rent or buying basic necessities like food and heating.

The organisation is now calling on the government to review the policy and end the freeze immediately. Abandoning the freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) for private renters was “essential” in order for low-income families to avoid homelessness, the report's authors wrote.

The charity, Crisis concurs. They say that there are currently an estimated 236,000 people across Britain experiencing the worst forms of homelessness, like sleeping on the streets, living in unsuitable hostels and sofa-surfing:

“This report highlights just how much housing benefits for private renters are falling short of the levels needed, leaving many homeless people stuck in a desperate situation and putting yet more people at risk of homelessness," said Matt Downie, its director of policy and external affairs.

“In many of these cases, people simply can’t find a home because there isn’t enough social housing and housing benefits are too low to cover private rents. The government must urgently reform housing benefits for private renters, so they not only match the true cost of renting but also keep pace with future rent changes.”

CIH said the policy was hitting single people aged under 25 particularly hard, because they are only entitled to LHA to cover the rent on a bedroom in a shared home, while the levels of other benefits they may be entitled to, such as Jobseeker’s Allowance, are also much lower.

For a government that has expressed an ambition to end homelessness and rough sleeping this report is a particularly telling one. I highlighted earlier this month how one of the biggest causes of the increase in homelessness has been the Government's welfare reforms, in particular issues around Universal Credit. The continuing freeze in housing benefit is likely to make things much worse.

Unless they sort out these problems then it will not matter how much money is recycled into rough sleeping strategies. Increasing the supply of affordable housing, restoring housing benefit levels and tackling the many problems being thrown up by welfare reform are essential if people are to be kept off the streets.
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