For a long time, we’ve made a very clear argument that housing benefit for private renters, or local housing allowance (LHA), needs to be lifted up so that it covers the cost of renting.
LHA is now so far below the cost of renting in almost all areas of England that people are having to make impossible decisions about whether they cut back on food for their families or on heating their homes during winter.
This is why it’s incredibly positive that going into the 2019 general election, both the Liberal Democrats and the Labour Party have committed to raising LHA back up so that it covers the true cost of renting. The Labour Party state they plan to lift the LHA rates back up to cover the cheapest third of rents (or the 30th percentile) while the Liberal Democrats have pledged to increase LHA ‘in line with average rents in an area’.
We hope to see a similar commitment in the Conservative manifesto, due to be published in the next few days. In their 2017 manifesto, they committed to combat homelessness and end rough sleeping by 2027. If they’re serious about meeting these aims, then there must be urgent investment into LHA.
Right now, LHA rates for a two-bedroom property do not cover the cheapest third of rents in a shocking 97% of the country. In fact, rates are so far behind the cost of renting that in a third of areas in England (32%), the LHA rate does not even cover the bottom 10% of the local market.
This is resulting in huge shortfalls between the LHA rate and the rents in any local area that people are having to make up any way they can. Our own survey of private renters shows that:
- one in three renters receiving LHA (31%) have cut back on food for either themselves or their partner
- two in five receiving LHA (37%) have been forced to borrow money to pay for their rent
- two in five (37%) have cut back on clothing for either themselves or their partner
These appalling trade-offs are just a small insight into the impossible decisions people are having to make just to stay in their home. This is happening up and down the country. It is completely unsustainable – and too often the result is homelessness.
The sharp rise we’ve seen in homelessness from the private sector since 2011 coincides with the changes made to LHA. The ending of a private tenancy became the most common trigger of homelessness in 2012/13 – just a year after the first changes to reduce LHA were made.
Of course, the private sector has also grown in that time, but the rise in homelessness from the private sector is not just because of its size. Since 2011/12, the private sector has grown by 17%, but homelessness triggered by the ending of a private tenancy grew by a huge 66%.
Investment in LHA is urgently needed if we are to even start reducing homelessness and it is good to see that two out of the three major parties have recognised that so far – we hope the Conservatives will too.
Ahead of the general election, help us make sure all political parties commit to ending the housing emergency by signing our petition.