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Calls to increase housing benefit and assess benefit tenants on ‘case-by case basis’

Thursday 10 October 2019

Families in receipt of housing benefit cannot afford to rent 94 per cent of properties in England after the benefits freeze came into place, new data from the National Housing Federation (NHF) shows.

Many low-income families are struggling, with those on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) only able to afford 7.5 per cent of the 75,000 private rental adverts analysed, the Federation said.

The LHA allowance was frozen for four years in 2016 as part of the government’s austerity programme.

It comes as a new opinion poll, published this week, shows overwhelming support from three-quarters (75 per cent) of respondents who agree that housing benefit should increase if rents go up.

Crisis and The Joseph Rowntree Foundation commissioned Public First to conduct a survey of more than 4,000 people in the UK, which also showed that 76 per cent of people think that housing benefit is a practical way for the government to stop people experiencing homelessness in the first place.

In 2011, housing benefit was set so people on low incomes could afford the cheapest 30 per cent of private rentals in their area.

But following a four-year freeze, the rates now fall significantly short of the true cost of renting, which continues to increase in many parts of the country.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive at Crisis, said: “A safe and stable home is fundamental to our dignity and humanity. But every day, we hear of people losing their homes as the constant pressure of rising living costs become impossible to bear.

“The Westminster government has committed to reduce homelessness, but without addressing the root causes such as unaffordable rents, homelessness will continue to rise.

“Housing benefit is an important tool and could be the quickest and most effective way to prevent homelessness in the short term, but it is fundamentally flawed because of severe under investment. Ending homelessness is truly within our capabilities and government must act now to deliver on its promises.”

Darren Baxter, housing policy and partnerships manager at The Joseph Rowntree Foundation, added: “A home should be an anchor against being swept into poverty but for many families the cost of renting a home is adding an extra strain.

“It does not have to be this way. We can ensure housing costs do not push households into poverty if we invest in building the low cost rented homes and, in the short term, invest in housing benefit so that it reflects the real costs of renting.”

Landlord groups including the National Landlords Association have highlighted the need to address the underlying issue of affordability caused by the long-standing freeze on Local Housing Allowance.

An NLA spokesperson said: “Our advice to landlords has reiterated the need to determine the suitability of each tenant on a case-by-case basis.

“In doing so, landlords can make informed decisions based on affordability as opposed to pursing blanket bans.”

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