It’s official. The government is forcing people to choose between eating and paying rent.

A collection of homes to rent signs

On 29 August, the Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) released a damning report on the effect of the government’s decision to freeze housing benefit rates.

Frozen in time

In 2016, the government froze Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates which govern the amount of housing benefit people are entitled to. Housing benefit helps low-income households cover the cost of renting, but the government hasn’t increased it in line with rents since 2013.

The CIH report states that:

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As a result, renters are facing gaps ranging from £25 a month on a single room in a shared home outside London to more than £260 a month on one to four-bedroom homes in some areas of London. Over 12 months, those gaps rise to £300 and £3,120 – making it increasingly likely that renters will be forced to choose between paying for basic necessities like food and heating or their rent.

And these shortfalls are not just a London issue. The Guardian reported that there are:

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striking shortfalls in areas such as Greater Glasgow (£82 a week on a four-bedroom home), Bristol (£71) and southern Greater Manchester (£53).

No options

CIH chief executive Terrie Alafat stated:

We fear this policy is putting thousands of private renters on low incomes at risk of poverty and homelessness.

Evictions from private sector tenancies are now the biggest cause of homelessness in the UK. While landlords don’t have to give a reason for evicting tenants, rising rents are seen as a key driver of the problem.

Low-income households facing eviction have very few options apart from presenting as homeless at their local council. Research by Generation Rent found that:

for every 100 additional section 21 repossessions by bailiffs, 123 homelessness cases were accepted by councils (there were more homeless cases than evictions because councils are sometimes able to offer families temporary accommodation before they are formally evicted).

Temporary measures

Yet councils are hamstrung by a combination of frozen LHA rates and record low levels of social housing. Since 2011, councils have been allowed to discharge their duty to applicants though sourcing private rented accommodation. Yet many private rented properties are too expensive for benefit claimants, and many private landlords refuse to accept housing benefit as payment due to “the complexity of the benefits system”.

This toxic mix means councils have no choice but to house households in temporary accommodation. Over 123,000 children live like this, often far away from where they grew up and in shocking conditions.

Not far enough

A government spokesperson stated:

We spend £24bn a year on housing benefit each year. And since April we’ve provided additional, targeted housing support for low-income households by increasing more than 200 local housing allowance rates.

Since 2011, we have provided a further £1bn in discretionary housing payment for local authorities to support vulnerable claimants with their housing costs.

Yet the CIH doesn’t think these measures go far enough:

We are calling on the government to conduct an immediate review and to look at ending the freeze on Local Housing Allowance.

The government’s decimation of social housing has forced people to rely on the private rental sector. The least it can do is help people so they don’t have to choose between food, rent, or heating.

Get Involved!

– Support housing campaigns like Focus E15London Renters UnionGreater Manchester Housing ActionACORNStreets KitchenBalfron Social ClubSave Our Homes LS26Ledbury Action Group, and Generation Rent.

Featured image via Paul Mison/Flickr

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