Charity warns over housing-benefits freeze

30 June 2017

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Crowded market: property for rent in Bristol, pictured in 2010

Crowded market: property for rent in Bristol, pictured in 2010

MORE than a million households in Britain are at risk of becoming homeless by 2020, owing to the benefit freeze and the escalating cost of rents in the private sector, a report from Shelter suggests.

The housing charity has analysed the rising costs of private rentals across the country, and compared them with the maximum amount of housing benefit available. It fore­casts that a million households will experience a growing shortfall, which could force them out of their homes — the majority of those affected are families with young children, the disabled, and pen­sioners.

More than a million private rent­ers currently have to claim housing benefit to help cover the cost of their rent. Many of them are already in work, but, owing to high rents and slow wage-growth, they cannot meet the cost of even the cheapest homes without additional support.

Local authorities are also finding it increasingly difficult to find rented properties that are affordable for those on housing benefit.

The report, Shut Out, said: “Grow­ing numbers of households are both becoming homeless and being trapped for months or even years in temporary accommodation, unable to find a new settled home.”

At the end of last year, 76,000 households were living in emergency temporary accommodation such as bed and breakfasts.

The growing shortfall between benefit levels and private rents is greatest in London, but the problem is widespread elsewhere in the country. In Cambridge, Shelter said, a family with two children would face a shortfall of £681 a month between the benefit available and the rent of the cheapest home; and in Bristol, the same family would have a £307 shortfall between cheap rented home and benefit support available.

Households who tried to increase their earnings to meet the shortfall would find their benefit cut further, trapping them. The level of housing benefit has been frozen until 2020.

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Shelter has urged the Government to end the benefit freeze.

The interim chief executive of Shelter, Graeme Brown, said: “The current freeze on housing benefit is pushing hundreds of thousands of private renters dangerously close to breaking point at a time when homelessness is rising.

“For those hit by the freeze, housing benefit is failing to bridge the widening gap between eye-wateringly high private rents and incomes that simply can’t keep up. Whether a struggling family or a young person in low-paid work, people across the country face a grim uphill battle to keep a roof over their heads.

“We’re calling on the Government to abandon the housing benefit freeze, or risk making more people homeless. And ultimately, if the Government wants to cut the welfare bill in the long term, they need to focus their efforts on building genuinely affordable homes that low-earners can actually afford.”

The report was published at the beginning of a week in which pressure continued to mount on the Government over its housing policy after the Grenfell Tower tragedy (News, 23 and 16 June), and the emergence of widespread fire-safety failings in council-owned blocks across 32 local authorities.

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