Housing benefit freeze is ‘making and keeping people homeless’
Families on housing benefit are priced out of almost all homes to rent in Wales, according to new research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
The investigation found only 52 two-bed properties across Wales that were affordable.
In some cities, the Bureau found almost no affordable two-bed flats to rent: Blaenau Gwent, Bridgend and Caerffili had none, while Newport had one.
Cardiff had only two properties that were affordable, out of 391 that were advertised. Last year more than 4,000 people asked Cardiff council for homelessness support.
Carmarthen had three affordable properties and Ceredigion one.
Moreover, even the affordable homes are often out of reach, because most landlords won’t let to benefit claimants – as the Bureau found when reporters called almost 200 landlords across Britain.
The local housing allowance (LHA) was frozen as part of the government’s austerity policy in 2016.
The allowance, which varies from region to region, was supposed to cover the cheapest 30% of the local rental market. However, since the freeze rents have kept rising.
In a new and extensive piece of research, the Bureau collected the details of 62,695 two-bed rental properties across England, Wales and Scotland that were advertised on a single day.
By mapping these against the LHA rates in each area, they found just 1 in 20 are actually affordable on benefits. Find your local area here.
A UK Government spokesperson said that providing quality and fair social housing was “an absolute priority”.
“The Government increased more than 360 Local Housing Allowance rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households,” the spokesperson said.
“We’re investing over £9 billion in affordable housing and an additional £2 billion after 2022. And we have abolished the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap – giving councils across the country the tools they need to deliver a new generation of affordable housing.”
However, Leilani Farha, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Right to Housing, said that the figures “part of an alarming global trend”.
“Accessing adequate housing is hard enough for middle class families, for those who are poor or on benefits, as this study shows, its almost impossible,” she said.
“It’s not clear where it is that Governments and housing providers think poor people should live. What is clear is that there is a systematic disregard for the human rights of those most in need.
“It’s shocking that so many landlords would simply deny access to housing based on the applicant’s source of income. That’s blatant discrimination and is unacceptable.”
Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive of Crisis, said that everyone should have a safe and secure home.
“This investigation paints a clear picture that for the overwhelming majority, we’re not meeting this basic human need. This is simply unacceptable – we can and must do better.
“Housing benefit is a tool to prevent people from being forced into homelessness in the first place.
“But rates are currently failing to cover the cost of even the cheapest private rents in the majority of areas, pushing people to rent more expensive properties and making up the difference – skipping meals or not putting the heating on to try and ease this financial pressure and keep the roof over their head.
“We can’t let individuals shoulder this burden simply because housing benefit hasn’t kept up with rising rents.
“Long term solutions like building more social homes will help tackle homelessness and mean less people are left relying on privately renting.
“This will not happen overnight though, and the most immediate and effective way to reduce the pressure is to restore housing benefit rates to ensure they cover at least the cheapest third of rents across the country.
“It is vital that we see Government commitment to do so in the future Budget.”
As part of their investigation into housing and new homelessness laws, the Bureau has found that councils have been encouraging those facing or experiencing homelessness to try renting privately. Many councils were simply giving vulnerable people lists of property rental websites.
Across the UK, a huge number of cities and towns had barely any two-bed properties that would be affordable on housing benefit; more than 100 areas had ten or fewer.
In Bristol, a city of half a million people, just 3 of 450 properties were affordable, while in Ipswich, not a single two-bed flat was available.
In Edinburgh, there were 12 flats out of 662 that a person on benefits could afford. In Central London, which has one of the highest rates of LHA at £320 a week, out of more than 4,400 two-bed homes advertised as for rent, only seven were affordable.
Across the country, people are regularly having to rent more expensive homes and top up their housing benefit with other funds to cover the shortfall. The Bureau’s analysis found that the average British councils would need to raise their benefit allowance by £100 each month to make the cheapest 30% of the two-bed properties we sampled affordable.
But in some areas that was much higher – in Central London, claimants would need an extra £1,422 a month.
Refusal to let to those on benefits makes the shortage of affordable properties even worse. Reporters from the Bureau contacted the landlords of 180 two-bed properties that would have been affordable on housing benefits. In each case the reporter claimed to be a single mother with an 8-year-old daughter.
Half of those landlords said definitively that they would not let to anyone on benefits. Of those that were left, more than half said they would consider letting to our hypothetical family, but only if they could fulfil further conditions, such as paying six months’ rent in advance or providing a guarantor.
One property site asked for a week’s rent in advance to even talk to the landlord.
While many of the landlords only refused to let when contacted in person, some are more blatant in their bias against tenants on benefits.
The Bureau analysed the text of some of the advertisements and found 80 that explicitly stated “No pets. No DSS [a slang term for benefits claimants]” or “no housing benefit”.