Future changes to local housing benefit and housing allowance (UK)

I’ve just read up on the changes to LHA, and my findings are, frankly, more sickening than I originally thought. I’ve listed the main points of my ire below.

1 .Only 30 percent of properties will be affordable

From 1 April 2011, maximum local housing allowance rates in all areas will be reduced so that only three out of ten properties for rent in any area will be affordable for people claiming local housing allowance. Affordable properties may be concentrated in certain places, and some places may have none.

– this seems to be an incredibly low percentage of affordable rental properties. For some people this will force them into ‘undesireable’ and potentially dangerous areas of the UK.

2. Reduced LHA if you have non-dependents

If you share your home with any adults who are not dependent on you – for example, adult sons or daughters, parents, relatives or friends, your local housing allowance may be reduced – it is assumed that they should pay something towards your rent, whether they actually do so or not.

– this is a ludicrous assumption. The cost of living is already so steep, and many people, of varying ages, share accommodation, either because they want to reduce their outgoings, or simply cannot afford to live alone. To expect strangers, or even friends to pick up the shortfall of a housemate is both unfair and improbable. This could easily lead to more people being forced to move into yet cheaper accommodation, which we have already seen will be a mere 30% of the rental market.

3. Reductions in LHA if you are under-35

Currently, if you are under-25 years old and renting in the private sector, you are probably only entitled to enough benefit to cover the cost of renting a single room in a shared house, even if you occupy self-contained accommodation. If you are over-25, the maximum amount you can receive may also be restricted if you are living in shared accommodation.

From January 2012, these rules will apply to people aged up to 35 years. This will mean that, unless you are already in shared accommodation, you will see a cut to your LHA payment if you are aged under-35. You may no longer be able to afford your current property as a result. You may have to find shared accommodation, or a cheaper alternative.

– this is a gigantic leap – a full decade between the current and future single-occupancy age. If a person has been living alone for a number of years, the forced move into shared accommodation is going to be exceedingly stressful, not only because of the lack of available or suitable house-shares, but also the mental difficulty of such a life adjustment. There are also many people who live alone because they suffer mental illness; how are they expected to cope, when frontline services are also being cut, or having their already disturbingly low funding cut?

There are a few positive changes being made, such as the abolition of the excess HB payments that a few people currently received, and the increased payments to disabled people. However, these are small victories. The majority of people claiming HB, not forgetting those who have been made redundant due to the CSR and public sector cuts, are going to be backed into a very tight and expensive corner, all fighting for a poky room on the wrong side of the tracks. It seems it’s not only the police kettling protesters, but the government too. I assume the government believe private landlords will have no choice but to reduce their rents, but it could easily swing the other way, with landlords capitalising on people’s desperation, and thus adding to the problem.

In high-cost, low income areas such as Brighton and Hove, for instance, there is already a premium on rents, which HB does not currently cover (after I was made redundant from the local council, there was a shortfall of £20 between the HB I received and my portion of the rent on a two-bedroom shared flat). The other benefit I received, JSA, covered my essential bills alone, leaving no money even for food.
I simply cannot fathom how the government can justify these reductions, when it seems patently obvious that all they will achieve is an increase in homelessness, nationwide poverty, and ultimately, death.