What will the changes in housing benefit mean?

Tue, 13/03/2012 - 17:05 -- nick

The rules on Housing Benefit changed in April 2011, with the results of these changes feeding through from January 2012.

Find out how they will affect you here:

http://www.moneysavingexpert.com/family/housing-benefit

Here is one result of the cuts:

'Cuts prompt landlords to shun benefit claimants

7th March 2012

Private landlords are becoming less willing to let properties to people on benefits as a result of welfare reforms, England’s first Green Party council leader has said.

Bill Randall, leader of Brighton Council, today said: ‘The housing situation in the city is getting worse, because of changes, not least to benefit.

‘We are concerned about the fact that the private rented sector is increasingly becoming less willing to take people on housing benefit.’

Mr Randall, speaking at the Chartered Institute of Housing south east conference in Brighton, cited figures collected by Brighton MP Caroline Lucas showing that out of 35 letting agents contacted, 26 said they would refuse to find homes for people on benefit or did not have any landlords who would accept benefit claimants.'

http://www.insidehousing.co.uk/tenancies/cuts-prompt-landlords-to-shun-b...

If the majority of letting agents refuse to deal with those on housing benefit, and the stock of social housing is reduced (the plans to increase discounts for council house tenants who want to buy their property will contribute to this), where will they go? Taken together, these two changes will greatly reduce the options available to unemployed and other low income people, running the risk of increasing homelessness.

Apart from the huge personal difficulties it brings, homelessness is one of the greatest barriers to gaining employment. Changing addresses regularly (if in temporary accommodation), lack of access to reasonable facilities (for those in hostels), and the time and effort spent looking for housing all distract from the search for work. This is as true for those on Employment Support Allowance as it is for those on Jobseeker’s Allowance.

This is an example of a worrying trend in government policies and programme, with cuts in funding undermining the likelihood of success in achieving the stated aims. The Work Programme is a good example of this; it made some sense to join up the range of previous programmes with similar aims and to simplify the range of requirements they had, but accompanying this was a cut in the overall funding available for this work. If a key aim is to encourage people in to work – and this is the stated aim of both the Work Programme and benefit changes – then is it too much to ask that any policy changes support this?

Housing Benefit cuts will fall disproportionately on those families with children, working against the government’s aim to cut child poverty. The move to paying for a maximum of four bedrooms per house also contributes to overcrowding. Don’t forget that Housing Benefit is also paid to those in employment but on a low income; the government is encouraging unemployed people to move in to work at any level of pay, and Housing Benefit is one of the ways in which families can afford to do this.

And where would those displaced by these changes move to (if they avoid homelessness)? The rent on a property usually reflects the work situation in the area. If people are displaced from places like London to areas with fewer work opportunities – and rumours have abounded of London councils block-booking bed and breakfast spaces in less affluent Southern towns like Margate and Hastings since the benefit changes were proposed – there is a clear risk that unemployment would become entrenched in these towns and among those who move there.

Moving those on a low income from wealthier areas with more opportunities to poorer areas with fewer opportunities would harm diversity in both places. In some places lowering the level of Housing Benefit might help to drive down rents, saving the government money. But in areas that have low levels of unemployment this is unlikely, as employed people would be willing to pay higher rents as average wages there are higher. The result is highly likely to mean that many areas are out of reach of the unemployed, even when they have lived there for generations, risking harm coming to the community links that are so valuable in gaining work and maintaining a fulfilling life.

Unemployed Net is dedicated to improving the conditions of the unemployed and economically inactive. The Housing Benefit changes worsen these conditions and make it less likely that they would be able to gain work, and they need rethinking.

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