Sunday, October 25, 2009

Housing benefit system is failing Southampton’s most vulnerable tenants

Gordon Brown’s changes to housing benefit rules are harming the most vulnerable tenants and reducing the availability of affordable accommodation.

Last year, Labour Ministers introduced a new ‘Local Housing Allowance’, with housing benefit being direct to the tenant rather than to the landlord. But vulnerable tenants often struggle to manage their finances and spend their rent money on other things. Homeless charity, Crisis, has warned that this can result in rent arrears and eventually homelessness.

Landlords who were previously happy to take on tenants on housing benefit have suffered from non-payment of rent. Many landlords now routinely refuse to let to Local Housing Allowance claimants. According to the National Landlords Association, half of all landlords are reluctant to lend to tenants on Local Housing Allowance.

11,662 people in Southampton are on local housing waiting lists, and a sizeable proportion of them are on housing benefit. Housing waiting lists have risen by 401 per cent under this Labour Government – reflecting the shortage of affordable accommodation.

Conservatives have pledged to change Labour’s failed policy. Tenants will be able to choose whether to have their housing allowance paid direct to their landlord. This will increase the availability of quality low-cost housing.

Labour’s new housing benefit rules are failing the most vulnerable in our society. Some tenants struggle to manage their finances and are getting into arrears and trouble as a result. Landlords are put off from renting to those on benefit because it is affecting their businesses, slashing the availability of decent places to live.

As a city councillor in Southampton I am responsible for finance and have overseen the implementation of the new housing benefits system locally. Southampton like other local councils have had to implement new system imposed on them by Government.

I have had landlords coming to me telling me first hand what a disaster
the new system is proving. It is causing real problems for local landlords as well as hurting those vulnerable tenants who are most in need. I am also told that it has become a fraudster’s charter.

Tenants should have greater choice, and be free to specify that their housing benefit should go direct to the landlord. I have been lobbying the Conservative Party for some time on this matter and I am delighted that we will reform the system if they form the next Government.

In the meantime I will be working closely with council officers and landlords to find ways to make the current botched system work better.

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