Benefit freezes are worsening homelessness, councils warn

A homeless man. Credit: Graf Spee

Nine out of 10 councils across England say that benefits freezes are leaving people living in their areas at risk of homelessness, a new report has warned.

Cuts and freezes to Local Housing Allowance and other housing benefits are leaving residents on the lowest incomes unable to meet their living costs, it said.

The Homelessness Monitor: England, commissioned by Crisis and the Joseph Roundtree Foundation (JRF) and led by Heriot-Watt University, found local authorities reporting a growing need for their homelessness services with seven out of 10 experiencing a rise in demand in the last year.

The charities behind the report have urged the Department of Work and Pensions to restore LHA rates to make sure that residents can stay in their homes and to ensure investment in social housing in the long-term.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: ‘It’s clear from councils that the growing gap between private rents and local housing allowance is leaving far too many people at risk of becoming homeless, and keeping those already experiencing it trapped in a cycle of destitution.

‘This can’t go on. No one should have to face impossible choices like buying food and essentials or paying their rent, or worse still, live in fear that they might never escape the devastation of homelessness.’

According to figures from The Homelessness Monitor: England, which surveys councils each year, over 75% of councils in the North of England and the Midlands reported a rise in the need for their homelessness services this year.

In London, this figure reached over 80%, highlighting a worrying trend in the UK’s capital where private sector rents are continuing to rise.

Local Housing Allowance has been repeatedly cut since 2010 while the rate of the benefit has been frozen since 2016.

One council in the South of England reported that the freeze has been a ‘huge factor’ in the increase of homelessness, putting families in a position where they cannot afford to rent privately.

The report’s lead author, Professor Suzanne Fitzpatrick of Heriot-Watt University, said that this year’s report offers ‘encouraging evidence’ that the Homelessness Reduction Act, which came into force in March last year, is allowing councils to help more people in housing difficulties.

‘However, the combination of cumulative welfare reforms and increasing housing market pressures are making it even harder for low income households to find a place to live,’ she said.

‘The research shows that councils are seeing more demand for their services, yet are faced with an ever diminishing social housing supply and very few options in the private rented sector.’

The JRF’s chief executive Campbell Robb added that an urgent boost to Local Housing Allowances must be supported by a long-term investment in low-cost rented homes if the UK’s current housing crisis is to be tackled.

Chris Ogden
Digital News Reporter


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