BIG DEBATE: How families on Housing Benefit are spending Christmas
- Credit: Archant
New figures from the Ministry of Justice reveal the number of tenants evicted by their landlords is at a record high. A peak in repossessions has been blamed on Housing Benefit cuts and a growing trend of ‘revenge evictions’ by private landlords serving notice on tenants who ask for repairs or maintenance. The homelessness charity Shelter has identified Newham, Waltham Forest, Barking and Dagenham among some of London’s ‘hot spots’ where families are most likely to lose their home. The Bedroom Tax at the centre of the controversy aims to move families on when children leave home to ‘free up’ properties. That’s the theory, according to one government minister who argues that people with room to spare should downsize their personal circumstances...
Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform, believes Housing Benefit capping creates more homes for families in need from the pool of council properties:
It has been 18 months since the government reduced subsidies to those living in social housing who had more space than they needed.
From figures published after just seven months, we know that 55,219 people on housing benefit in London saw a deduction as a result of this measure.
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These people, all of working age and receiving Housing Benefit to pay towards the cost of their rent, were all found to have room to spare in their homes. Even after this reform, we still pay the majority of most claimants’ rent.
It is important to remember that changes ensure housing benefit now covers households for the number of bedrooms they actually need, whether they live in the private rented sector or the social sector.
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More than two-million households are currently on the social housing waiting list due to a shortage of suitable properties. We believed this was unfair and the system had to be changed to help those families who were crammed into accommodation that was too small.
We understood some people would need extra support, which is why we made a fund of £190m available to local authorities to help vulnerable tenants.
This includes £25m earmarked specifically for disabled people living in adapted properties, ensuring there was a safety net to catch the most vulnerable people in society.
Removal of the Spare Room subsidy has resulted in a saving to the Housing Benefit bill as those who live in properties with more room than they need will look to downsize to accommodation that is more appropriate for their personal circumstances, or let out spare rooms to lodgers, while those who can will consider moving into work.
This helps local authorities and social housing landlords make better use of the housing stock and ensure every single room is put to full use.
But capping Benefits can have a knock-on effect with families hit by a ‘double whammy’ if they also rent from private landlords, because they can be given notice to quit for no reason, housing charities say.
It is the children who will be the ones most suffering this Christmas, Shelter homeless charity’s Zorana Halpin points out:
You won’t actually see the 90,000 children on the street in Britain who wake up homeless this Christmas.
That’s because local authorities have a duty to find somewhere to stay for families who are legally homeless.
But these families are still homeless—just hidden away. They’ll spend Christmas Day in temporary bed and breakfast or a hostel, some with no access to cooking and very little furniture.
Imagine eating your Christmas dinner in bed or on the floor. That’s reality for many.
Make no mistake, these children bear the brunt of our housing crisis, often placed in temporary accommodation miles away from their schools, extended family and friends.
The single leading cause for nearly a third of all homeless cases is termination of fix-term private rented tenancies.
There’s nothing in the law to stop landlords asking families to leave at the end of their short fixed-term tenancy, even if they’ve lived in a home for years. Sometimes tenants are evicted just for asking for the boiler to be fixed!
So many people are trapped renting. It can be a struggle to find somewhere affordable, especially if your wages are low and you need Housing Benefit.
Until we have enough affordable homes, we will see more and more families made homeless and spending this Christmas in temporary accommodation.
This isn’t a problem without a solution. In fact, it’s a pretty simple—just build more homes.
First though, we need to give immediate help to the families facing homelessness this Christmas. Our expert legal advisers at Shelter work with homeless families to try and stop them ever becoming homeless in the first place.
But we need to solve the crisis over the long-term by getting the government to build more genuinely affordable homes—and change the private rented sector so that it is more secure.