Government admits housing benefit cuts will increase homelessness


11:01 am - July 26th 2010

by Chaminda Jayanetti    


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The government has admitted that its planned cuts to housing benefit entitlement may make it harder for claimants to find housing and could force families to move further from where they work.

Last month’s Budget introduced a cap on the level of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) paid to claimants, and cut the level of LHA to the 30th percentile of rents in each area, rather than the median – reducing the number of properties that claimants will be able to afford.

Last week the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) published its equality impact assessment into the changes, which admitted that the cuts would hit some families hard.

The Government recognises that some households, particularly in very high cost areas, may have to move as a consequence of these measures. In London, some households may need to move from central London to outer London Boroughs or neighbouring local authorities which are not impacted by the overall caps.

There could also be knock-on impacts for outer London boroughs that could be faced with an increased number of new Housing Benefit customers needing access to additional services such as schools and health care.

The report also warned that some claimants may struggle to find suitable accommodation due to the reduction in the number of affordable properties under the new, lower LHA rates.

Claimants who are in employment may have to move further from where they work.

There could also be negative impacts for Housing Benefit customers who are working if they have to move to an area where they need to extend their commute to their place of work.

This impact may be more pronounced in inner London than elsewhere … However, a more positive impact is that moving to more affordable accommodation could encourage households to take up employment.

The Budget also ended payment of LHA for five-bedroom properties, and today’s report warned that this move could cause overcrowding for a small number of families.

Currently, only 7,338 households receive benefits at the five bedroom rate, out of over one million claimants.

Citizens Advice’s response to the DWP report can be read here.


Chaminda’s blog A Thousand Cuts is detailing where Coalition cuts are taking place and how they’re affecting people.

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Chaminda is an occasional contributor. He writes at the A Thousand Cuts blog and Twitter account.
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Reader comments


“cut the level of LHA to the 30th percentile of rents in each area, rather than the median – reducing the number of properties that claimants will be able to afford”

I’m still finding it impossible to see a politically acceptable argument against this. 30% of available properties sounds fair. How many benefits are as generous? Obviously if 35% of families are on housing benefit in an area, it doesn’t work – but is that the case in many places?

Of course a more sensible solution would be a return to investing in bricks and mortar and creating publicly-owned housing, rather than using taxes to line the pockets of landlords without expanding the overall housing stock. I get the intellectual argument, but as a voter of course there’s cognitive dissonance when I see people getting properties I can’t afford on my (fairly good) wage.

Sadly the Thatcher vision that we should be paying for people’s needs and letting them make the arrangements is not one New Labour ever saw fit to oppose, and even while some MPs recognise our failure on housing, our most recent administration was keen to extend the same bizarre logic into health and social care, with a target-based push for individual budgets and direct payments even when they were not in the best interests of the patient.

“moving to more affordable accommodation could encourage households to take up employment.”

How? That doesn’t even make sense on Planet IDS.

Does the study really say that homelessness will increase?

It may become more difficult for some Housing Benefit customers to find suitable accommodation, because the overall number of properties available is reduced. Some people may also face difficulties in moving, and may approach their local authority for assistance. However, in all areas except for the handful affected by the caps, around a third of properties will still be affordable to Housing Benefit customers. Housing authorities may experience difficulty finding suitable private rented sector accommodation locally for households that are accepted as homeless or at risk of homelessness. These impacts are more likely in London but could occur elsewhere.

I’m not sure that’s quite as cut-and-dried an admission as the headline claims. The main thrust of the impact section is that it will mean families living in high-cost areas may have to move out of them – which as a non-HB user seems fair enough to me.

I’m moving out of a high cost area because my family has grown/is growing to the extent that I can’t afford a big enough house in the region I currently live in. This will get me a bigger house, but will extend my commute. That doesn’t seem to me to be an inherently unreasonable thing to expect people to do – especially since we’re paying anyway.

@theoldpolitics

The 30% threshold is subject to the rate capping, that will mean far fewer properties that are affordable in wealthier areas such as Central London. This is where people get forced out into outer London, or even beyond – potentially away from their jobs and towards cheaper areas that may well be cheap because they have few jobs and high unemployment. Also, if you force claimants to congregate in the cheapest third of properties, I dare say you run the risk of recreating neighbourhoods dominated by people on low incomes and the unemployed, just when we’re supposed to be getting away from that and creating more mixed neighbourhoods.

The Citizens Advice statement is verbose but educative, and worth clicking through to as it highlights some points the DWP report avoided.

But I am in full agreement with you (I think) that ultimately the solution to this and other problems is to rapidly (and belatedly) increase the council housing stock – but that remains off the agenda, and social housing budgets are being cut as well.

Hold the front page; people are going to have to live in an area they can afford.

@2 – I think it’s meant to be phrased as “the threat of having to move to more affordable housing…”

Personally, I find it hard to support the really high rates of housing benefit for people who are on it long-term. If you’re in an expensive house in central london and looking for work (and failing) for a long period of time, I don’t think it’s wrong for the government to ask you to move into cheaper accommodation. And this really does seem to be a problem only in central london – which says more about the state of the capital than it does about the fairness of the benefit, I guess, but hey ho.

What is wrong is doing that to do people who who might be out of work for a shorter length of time (say, 6 months or so). No point causing all the upheaval of moving house for someone who can get back into work relatively quickly. What’s also wrong is the ?10%? cut after a year out of work. Where’s the justification in that?

Private Eye nailed the sheer idiocy of this policy. After all the stories last week about extortionate housing benefit payments (wonder where they came from?) there obviously wasn’t space in the mainstream press to point out that only 100 families receive over £1000 per week and the average claim is £106 per week. Limiting rises in HB to the consumer price index will actually mean a further cut of approximately 2.5% PA and don’t forget to add in the 10% punishment cut for anyone unemployed over 12 months. All of which adds up to homelessness and under current legislation families with a local connection have the right to be housed by the council which will be forced to use temprary accomodation at much greater cost (an average of £300 per night) until it can find them permanent accomodation. And good luck with that as there are 4.6 million on the waiting list. Good news is this will hit Tory councils disproportionately highly.

High rents that require housing benefits are a knock on effect of the unsustainable housing price rise bubble-boom, which has exacerbated the present economic crisis.

Every nation that heavily relied on a property boom for economic growth has been disproportionately adversly affected, look at Spain or Ireland.

The grotesque outcome of all this is Tories introducing policies like this which will make some areas, like inner-London ghettos for the very rich.

And with the average UK house price now at £224,064 it looks like the next generation becoming adults now will never be able to afford a house, unless they inherit one.

It would be justice if the young got some of their own back on these greedy baby-boomers by introducing a land value tax.

Build more council houses. Job done. *sigh* (declaration of interest: been on waiting list for over 18 months now…)

@9 – sadly, the establishment has a vested interest (ideological, financial, social) in maintaining ludicrous property prices and not allocating funds to social housing projects.

Hence, just as Labour utterly failed in this regard, so will the Tories.

But they will interpret “not building more council houses” as a success.

It all depends on how the 30th percentile is calculated. Is it from housing benefit claims, trawling the local estate agents, modal or average rents or someone dreaming up a number?

Maybe the simple answer to the whole question of funding for Housing benefits is for landlords to be “invited” to attend the party everyone else is going to, and for the govt. to fix actual rent levels to the same levels as produced by the 30th percentile exercise.

That way, everybody can stay living where they are, the govt. doesn’t pay anybody anything and saves BILLIONS, and the landlords will feel so much better that they have done there bit to help everybody out ?

Maybe just for 5 years until all the debt is paid off, then we can get back to normality ?

In reply No 11, the 30th percentile is taken from data collected from landlords, estate agents and other bodies, on actual tenancy agreements in place, not advertised tenancies. If there were 100 returns for a particular sample, 1 being the lowest rent and 100 being the highest, then instead of number 50 setting the rent level, number 30 is used.

My research in my area shows 2,700 families will lose £11.50 pw, and the remaining 1,700 will lose between £5pw and £16pw. The total impact on this areas economy will be some £2.2m..

There is some good data on the LHA website that shows by area, how many, what size house and what the median is.

In most areas the restriction to the 30th percentile does not produce a “massive” cut in benefits and the general expectation is that landlords will accept those levels. Quite simply, the restriction to the 30th percentile restores HB levels to the pre LHA levels that were being awarded.

Where the cuts are larger is where there is a large variation on the quality of properties. These are the the Valuation Office guesstimate figures based on current rent levels.

http://www.voa.gov.uk/LHADirect/LHA-emergency-budget-news-2010.htm

Many of these proposals are not new. The DWP had a consultation out shortly before the last general election that looked at cutting benefits and introducing a cut that is essentially a passport to Pimlico.

The cut in the level of benefit paid to those unemployed more than a year is the one to worry more about.

I suppose “massive” is relative. When you are living on £80 pw and then that is reduced by £11 to £69pw, that might be considered “massive”.

These figures are not actual rents charged by the landlord, they are, dare I say, notional geographical area “averages”, compiled from poorer and better off neighbourhoods across the region from actual tenancy agreements in place. SO if you live in a poorer area/house your rent could be less than LHA, if you have a nice area/house your landlord will be charging more, and you have to pay the diference yourself, or move. There isn’t a cat in hells chance of a landlord reducing his rent.
The point is that 70% of the property to rent in your area will be more expensive than the LHA… people have to live somewhere, maybe the Tories want the slums bringing back ?
It is a completely despicable act by the Govt. acting like school yard bullies, but what else would you expect from a Tory Govt …

“The point is that 70% of the property to rent in your area will be more expensive than the LHA” – the acceptability of this surely depends entirely on the geographic spread and the number of people in receipt of LHA. It’s still an anomaly among benefits. If unemployment benefit were set at the 30th percentile of earnings, I suspect (without the figures to hand) it would be a bonanza for claimants, rather than unjust because 70% of workers had a higher income…

17. Public Sector Pete

@16 “If unemployment benefit were set at the 30th percentile of earnings, I suspect (without the figures to hand) it would be a bonanza for claimants, rather than unjust because 70% of workers had a higher income…”

True. 30th percentile of the median wage would equal roughly double what JSA is at the moment.

I totally agree with @14 “The cut in the level of benefit paid to those unemployed more than a year is the one to worry more about.” That seems pointless and somewhat vindictive.

Actually JSA at £65.45pw is more than 30% of the mimum wage of £203pw, which is a more sensible comparison than using median wages which include people earning £100,000 + per year.
The reality which seems to escape you is someone looking for a house to rent can now only afford 3 out of the 10 on the market, but even that misses the real point, that families already relying on support to exist will now have even less money to exist. I don’t see how you can say that is a fair way to treat people who are in need of help, either temporarily or long term, often through events not of their own making (ie a relationship breakdown, loss of a job…). These aren’t the people who brought about the collapse of the banking system,and the billion pounds worth of economic disaster that followed, nor the massive increase in house prices (and thus rents) brought about by reckless lending and borrowing.
Surely a caring society should support the needy, but all I see is the Tories yet again hammering the poor and needy and less influential members of our society knowing they are not Tory voters anyway, while at the same time I read of champagne parties in London where bank employees are lauding it up again, falling in a drunken stupour and garbling about “banks are back !”.
There is something inherently sick in our society and its social conscience, I despair when I read comments as above and wonder what happened to compassion.
I hope non of you fall upon hard times.

“Actually JSA at £65.45pw is more than 30% of the mimum wage of £203pw”

But we have cleared up some time ago – we’re not talking about “30% of” something, we’re talking about the 30th percentile of a distribution – a completely different thing.

“The reality which seems to escape you is someone looking for a house to rent can now only afford 3 out of the 10 on the market”

And? Without the numbers as to what percentage of people are on housing benefit, that’s not a useful or relevant piece of information. As stated above I believe the answer is for the state to provide the houses directly, but if the objection is that people will be denied “choice”, that doesn’t address the problem either.

I just looked on Rightmove, and even assuming the asking prices are all achieved, my flat is the 56th cheapest of 226 2-beds available to rent in my postcode area, which would put me at the 25th percentile. I earn above the average wage, and it’s a perfectly acceptable flat. I certainly wouldn’t feel I was being hard done by if I fell on hard times and got it paid for!

@19

When you’re on Rightmove look out for “No DSS”. It will, I think, change the results of your research…[again, personal experience speaking here – I’ve no stats to hand]

I know, and I don’t think that should be any more acceptable than “no asians” or whatever; it doesn’t affect where the flat sits in the price distribution of local properties, though.

@21

Aye, my point being though that if you did fall on hard times and had to claim HB, your landlord might well kick you out as in the contract it might have the No DSS bollocks (exactly what happened to me at my last place when I lost my job…) so it’s not really a good example.

But again, my solution would be to build more council houses. Apparently we built 2,000,000 homes in two years after 1945 when we were more in debt than now and had been bombed to fuck for the past 5 years. And those houses are actually decent places to live (lots bought in the ’80s Right to Buy etc) unlike the ’60s tower blocks/rabbit hutches.

I know we are talking percentiles, but to say JSA at 30th percentile of wage range is a bizarre statement to use to justify the reduction of benefits to people who are in need. It is irrelevant to low income/unemployed families who would be happy just to get a job at minimum wage, part time or full.

According to data from DWP there are over 1.2m people on housing benefit, costing £14m. The increase in cost to this level is due primarily to factors completely outside the control of benefit receivers, ie inflated house prices due to high demand due to easy money due to irresponsible bank leanding, which has precipated the current financial climate. To now infer, by what you are saying, that in some way there is a stigma/fault with sponging benefit receivers, which is the inference from what you are arguing, is illogical.

The 50th percentile, or average across the range (not postcode but local authority) gave families a decent chance of finding a decent enough area to raise their kids in. Now that has been reduced, those seeking housing will take their kids into what we can say are “less desirable” areas, obviously. In my area there are 2 distinct districts, a rurual and a run down urban area. The price range is obviously lower in the run down urban area, where crime and facilites are worse than in the rural areas, but this is where you, if you became unlucky, would live and raise your family. How would you feel then ?

My original message on here offered the solution to this problem, which was to introduce managed rents, whereby landlords could only charge what the govt said was a “fair” rent. That way the landlords would take the hit and not the tenants, which I am sure would be a more socially just way of doing it.

Whatever you say, and however you try and justify the cutting of benefits such as this, it will never be morally right. It is a cheap shot by the Govt, which will raise £1b of the £164b it seeks, meanwhile the culprits in all this, the banks, get away with a punitive £4b. Just to prove, once again, the Tories are the party of the rich and influencial and couldn’t give a hoot about the less well off in this country.

The names change, the policies remain the same. The Liberals have blood on their hands too, which will be to their eternal shame.

The feeling of injustice that will prevail, evident already in many columnists articles and the DWP review may well come back to bite the Coalition. I quote ” It is not the consciousness of the people that determines their existence, but their social existence that determines their consciousness” (Karl Marx).

OK some interest here I work in Housing Benefit and firstly while all of this is being attacked as evil wicked Tory cuts these are in fact in line with the cuts proposed by Neo Con Labour in an industry consultation prior to the the General Election.

The previous HB scheme was based on a “local reference rent” which was a pretty arbitrary figure based on a Rent Service value of what the property would cost if it was not being let to someone on HB. The HB claimant had no idea what that value would be and more often than not found themselves restricted. Reference rent cases paid far below LHA levels. They still do even when the new figures are taken in to account.

The DWP have always opposed the shopping incentive of the LHA, introduced to encourage tenants to find properties at or below the maximum That is going. That is stupid. LHA has been the only rent restriction scheme that has worked because it allows tenants and landlords to know what the maximum level HB will pay. It gives tenants an incentive to rent at the lower end of the market creating a downward pressure on rents. Now the rent charged will be the 30% level. Why charge less?

@22 it sounds like you had an illegal eviction (a term such as no DSS is not legally enforceable as a term in a tenancy agreement) and an incompetent local council doing your HB (there are lots of them, in many cases staff are poorly trained and procedures are disgusting). There was no need for the landlord to know you were on HB and indeed you should have had 3 months paid at your full rent. That protection still exists even after the cuts.

25. John Bull

As a Tory voter I am particularly ashamed of the Housing Benefit cuts especially the indiscriminate “across the board” 10% cut to people unfortunate enough to have languished for a year on Jobseeker’s Allowance. This will affect everyone; innocent or guilty; feckless or dutiful. For example a sixty four year old man or woman with a lifetime of work behind them, made redundant through no fault of their own, and who cannot find alternative employment because of their age will suffer the cut no matter how hard they have looked for work; no matter how many times they have visited their local Jobcentre; no matter how many applications they have made, or letters they have written, or emails they have sent, or phone calls they have answered or interviews they have attended with employers. They will suffer the same cut as the individual that has actively refused every reasonable offer of work made to them. Refusing work is one thing but being denied work because of your age is another. This particularly pernicious measure in respect to the 10% cut cannot be right and will never be able to be sold to the public as necessary, reasonable or just. To be honest I hate it. As a Conservative I am embarrassed by it. Such a measure should never have been advanced in the first place.

I also have deep reservations in Housing Benefit cuts proposed in respect to under occupation, which could see benefits slashed in respect to elderly widows and widowers living in family homes, which they have occupied for decades, whose partner has passed away and whose children have left home to start live of their own. Are we really going to see such innocent people evicted from long-standing homes into bedsits or “non self-contained” rooms as happened to many of the under twenty-fives under Sir John Major?

At the moment the Conservatives are at 38% in the polls with a leaderless Labour Party only 4% behind on 34%. From the Autumn, when the cuts begin biting, the Conservative approval rating is going to fall like a lead balloon. The Party may well be on its way to ruin and policies like the 10% cut to the unemployed are set to accelerate this process.

All this needless cruelty worries me terribly.

It should worry all decent minded One Nation Conservatives.

“To now infer, by what you are saying, that in some way there is a stigma/fault with sponging benefit receivers, which is the inference from what you are arguing, is illogical”

I’m not saying there’s stigma or fault any more than there is with unemployment benefit. I’m saying that benefits are there to ensure an adequate standard of living and to reduce inequality, not to eliminate it completely and bring recipients right up to the average.

Propose that if you want, but I can’t get my head round the political logic of an argument which says that the purpose of housing benefit is to transfer money away from people renting houses at the 25th cheapest percentile out of their income, and to people renting houses at average rents using benefits.

I can see a different argument when people who have lived somewhere long-term fall on hard times, but otherwise it’s surreal. I know someone who became unemployed recently and took the opportunity to upgrade from a room in a fairly dingy share that they paid for, to a rather nice one-bedroom flat that’s out of my price range, on HB. I’m all for equality, but how do you think that looks to our voters?

re #26.

I agree with you that rents have become unaffordable for a lot of people, and because of the way the HB system is linked to market rents, this has given people on low incomes a degree of protection not enjoyed by people with middle incomes.

But this is what happens when councils stop building affordable homes to replace those sold off under Maggie Thatcher’s Tory Govt, and irresponsible banks swamp the market with easy money driving up house values and thus rents. If you are trapped in a low income/benefit cycle then the alternative is either homelessness or , given there are no council houses, to be put up in expensive b&b or hotels.

The mess is of the Tories own making, and free market enterprise and obscene profits and bonuses paid to bank employees in an artificial boom based on sand just shows what happens when you let private enterprise rip loose with no regulation.

Now the chickens have come home to roost, and the folly of previous policies has at last been shown up for what it was, the cost to the taxpayer is billions.

The answer though is not in cutting benefits, the answer is in reducing rents, for everybody. Regulation is what is required, and a rein put on the free market economy because it is proved time and time again to have no long term substance. It is not just rents, it is property prices, it is pension funds devalued due to the stock market, savings values diminished, earnings on savings plummeted…peaks and troughs in a regular cycle, where the rich milk the boom years and the poor pay when we dip into a trough.

I don’t know why some sort of regulation of private rents couldn’t be introduced, that would protect all tenants. Either regulation, ie limiting rents to figures recommended by the VOA, or an across the board 10% cut, even just for 5 years or so. After all, don’t landlords receive financial incentives , funded by the taxpayer, to convert and develop properties for the rental market, maybe it’s time they paid a bit back.

.

28. Kara Marsh

I’m very annoyed! Firstly if people in this country were paid a decent days wages for a decent days work – WORKING PEOPLE WOULD’NT NEED TO CLAIM HOUSING BENEFIT OR TAX CREDITS. Why is it nobody questions the level of income ‘ordinary’ people earn, I’TS NOT ENOUGH! I’m 38 and have a 20yr old son living at home with me – he’s on jobseekers (and not for the want of trying either – CV after CV for application after application). I’ts a slog! I work full time and have done for for over 10yrs now and I think it’s highly likely that I’m going to become homeless as I can’t get on top of the debt I’ve aquired. That leads me on to saying, in my own personal opinion people don’t get into debt because the manage money badly it’s usually because loans etc help them to buy things they need! Again why is it that wages in this country for ‘ordinary’ people – don’t enable them to do that. The bigwigs are far out on the airy fairy figures they say a person needs to live and my guess is by at least a couple of thousand punds a year. Ok so nothing validates my estimations other than the fact that I am a single working woman – by the time I’ve paid the bills – I have nothing left. It’s about time the aristocrats etc in this country took a cut in the money that they’re on, I ‘m sure they wouldn’t miss a few thousand each year – still be on more money than I can ever imagine. People in this country are poor because people in power manage taxes etc that comes from our wages in such a way that it benefits them – they have no care for people like me! I was conditioned into believing that working for a living would enable me to have a decent standard of living – so unfair. I see people on benefits having a better time than me – sort it out!

I do have a suggestion though for single people. I would like to see the introduction of co-housing for the single. Especially so for single parents. I think this has to be a cheaper way of living and could possibly resolve some childcare issues too. Admittedly I didn’t read the whole of this article and probably just used this site for a bit of a rant. Haha.

been reading these comments and I think the reductions in the amounts are just unfair, at present i’m on sick – not dla, i recieve £160 a fortnight I have to pay £20 a week electric and £20 a week gas, I then have to pay £13 a week for water. this is the norm for my weekly bills, my rent is paid by the LHA of £90.

Which is £53 a week x 2 = £106 fortnight (residual income for food, clothes etc… £54)

the new regs will reduce this LHA to £58, meaning I will have to top up £32 a week

This bringing my total to £168 (You do the maths)

Not only in my own personal curcumstances, I spend a reasonable amout on travel, back and fourth from hospital and the doctors for treatment.

I know this country and uninvited residents has abused its system, but lets get things right, and stop punishing the poor, and may be we should also stop giving our money away to other countries and the eurozone, and keep our soverenty ours.


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