Charities lobby government to drop hidden changes to housing benefit which vulnerable can't afford
Charities are warning a “hidden” change to housing benefit could have potentially devastating effects on the country’s most vulnerable people.
Ahead of a Scottish Government debate on Dignity, Fairness, Respect and Disability Benefits today (9 June) the Scottish Federation of Housing Associations (SFHA) is highlighting measures both the UK and Scottish Governments could take to mitigate the impact of the changes.
Currently, housing benefit available to private rented sector tenants is capped at what is called the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate. If a private rented sector tenant’s rent is higher than the LHA, they have to find the cash difference from other sources.
In his Autumn 2015 statement, the chancellor announced that the LHA cap would also apply to new tenancies in the social rented sector created after 1 April 2016, and the LHA rate will also be frozen for four years.
This, says campaigners, poses a risk of shortfalls in money available to meet social rents across the board for some of Scotland’s poorest and most vulnerable tenants.
This policy could hit some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people hardest of all - Mary Taylor
They are warning the move will especially affect single people under-35 who live alone who will have their rent capped to an LHA rate that assumes they are sharing, and could include women fleeing domestic violence, returning veterans and people with mental health difficulties.
It could also hit those in supported accommodation who receive expensive levels of significant intensive support, for example because they are older or disabled.
Mary Taylor, SFHA chief executive, said: “This policy could hit some of Scotland’s most vulnerable people hardest of all. After a backlash from social housing providers across the UK, the UK Government has temporarily suspended the introduction of the policy for supported accommodation.
“But, so far, there are no guarantees as to what happens next, which is why we believe Scottish Government should set out its own policy on making up the shortfall should the future of Scottish supported accommodation be placed in jeopardy.
“Early estimates of the money lost to tenants run into millions of pounds annually.”
Responding to the SFHA statement, Citizens Advice Scotland’s policy spokesman Rob Gowans said: “Scottish CAB evidence clearly shows that Housing Benefit is a lifeline for many families on low incomes who would otherwise be homeless.
“While these changes don’t come into force until 2018, we are concerned that they will increase the risk of vulnerable people being made homeless.
"We would urge the UK and Scottish Governments to use this time to make sure that people who cannot afford to live anywhere without support are protected.”