Until the housing crisis is cracked and the government take real steps to build more homes that people can afford, housing benefit is the most important mechanism we have to stop people becoming homeless.
Given how much airtime housing benefit gets in the press, you’d think most people understand what it is, who gets it and why. But unless they have direct experience of receiving it, most people don’t quite understand how housing benefit works. So we’ll explain it.
Fundamentally, housing benefit helps people pay their rent.
There’s no doubt that successive cuts and changes to housing benefit means things are changing fast – and at the same time, the role of housing benefit has been steadily morphing too. It’s now used in a number of different ways to help people and families across the country:
Maybe you’ve found yourself temporarily unable to earn enough to cover the rent. You might have fallen ill, or lost your job. Like Trevor who lost his job. He was able to use his small amount of savings to cover his rent payments on a privately rented flat for a while. But when his savings ran out, he had no option but to apply for housing benefit.
You might have a long term medical condition that restricts your ability to earn, and need to help to pay the rent. Linda had to give up her job as a nurse after developing a disability. And Bill came to us for help when his eyesight deteriorated and he couldn’t drive a bus anymore.
Or, like a growing number of people, you might just struggle to earn enough to cover housing costs. Caroline needs housing benefit to pay the rent even though both her and her husband work, because wages haven’t kept up with rent increases.
Housing benefit helps a range of people in different circumstances – even if you haven’t used housing benefit yourself, you could end up needing it one day. We all could.
Housing benefit plays a vital role in closing the growing gap between the rent people have to pay and what they can actually afford to pay. So cutting housing benefit means giving people who already struggle to pay their rent even less help.
Cuts like the benefit cap, the bedroom tax and other changes to how much housing benefit people can claim all reduce the help people can get to keep their home.
For someone who can’t pay the rent, housing benefit can mean the difference between having a home and homelessness.
We know homelessness is increasing because people are struggling to pay the rent – despite being in receipt of housing benefit.
In short, the cuts and changes mean that what people can get in housing benefit is sometimes not enough to cover the rent. The changes to housing benefit for private renters (LHA) mean that, over time, more and more of them will be unable to keep up with the cost of renting – putting more families at risk of homelessness.
Housing benefit is a vital lifeline for the people we help everyday.
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