Record homelessness is a political choice

Record homelessness is a political choice

This week, we’ve launched a campaign calling out the government for its failure to unfreeze housing benefit despite shocking levels of homelessness.

The number of households homeless in temporary accommodation (TA) has now hit a record high of over 100,000, including over 127,000 children. They’re stuck homeless in TA because frozen housing benefit means they can’t afford to move out to a privately rented home.

In the long term, the only solution is to invest for future years in building genuinely affordable social homes. But the situation is so urgent that we need to see the lifeline against homelessness restored for struggling families right now.

As rents continue to soar, when will the government step up and end the housing benefit freeze?

The three-year freeze on the local housing allowance (LHA), which determines the amount of housing benefit private renters can receive, means it has been stuck at the same level since March 2020, based on rents in 2019.

Since our blog a few weeks ago on disappearing affordable rents, there has been a flurry of new reports showing that the situation is deteriorating fast for people struggling to keep or find a privately rented home. Rapidly rising asking rents for new tenancies means there are barely any affordable options left.

Barely any decent or affordable homes available for struggling families

At the end of June, research from the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS) charted the long-term trends in the types of homes in which people on low incomes live. As more and more people have rented privately in recent decades, the cost of their homes become increasingly unaffordable.

The really shocking findings are on what has happened to affordability for struggling private renters in the 3 years since the start of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, as the cost of new rents has gone up by a whopping 25% while housing benefit has stayed frozen.

IFS found that just 5% of advertised private rents are now affordable within housing benefit limits. This is way below the 30% that’s supposed to be covered. And it’s even worse than the 11% of newly listed homes to let which were affordable at the start of 2020, shortly before the government last restored LHA rates.

IFS also found that the LHA freeze is forcing families to live in substandard homes which prevents them from getting on with their lives, as increasingly they are only able to afford those in the very worst states of disrepair and in areas with the least access to job opportunities.

A ‘collapsing’ homelessness system in London

This week, an even bleaker picture was revealed for London, which is at the epicenter of the housing emergency. Research commissioned by London Councils on the supply of private rented homes in the capital found that just 2.3% of homes advertised at the start of this year were affordable to people claiming housing benefit. And with fewer homes being advertised to let in the city than before the pandemic, this is leaving struggling families with nowhere to go.

This has resulted in the homelessness system in London ‘collapsing’, according to Trust for London (one of the funders of the research), with Capital Letters (another funder) reporting: ‘this is the worst it has been for 30 years.’

Why does the housing benefit freeze cause homelessness?

The freeze to LHA rates has resulted in growing numbers of people homeless and stuck in temporary accommodation because it affects the ability of local authorities to:

  • prevent homelessness when people have big shortfalls on their rent but can’t afford to move to a suitable alternative
  • relieve homelessness by helping people move out of damaging temporary accommodation

Temporary accommodation is so bad for people that it puts unnecessary pressure on the beleaguered NHS and results in disrupted and missed education for children, threatening their chances of doing well at school.

Call on the government to #UnfreezeHousingBenefit

The evidence is clear: the freeze on local housing allowance is a reckless policy, and the government is sitting on its hands while homelessness grows. This cannot go on.

That’s why we’re standing with Vicky, from Bournemouth, who’s homeless and stuck in temporary accommodation with her children because she can’t find any affordable privately rented homes.

Vicky wants to meet Chancellor Jeremy Hunt to explain to him the problems faced by struggling families like hers as a result of the LHA freeze. She wants him to end it so that hundreds of thousands of people like her don’t have to remain stuck homeless in damaging, insecure temporary accommodation.

Please join Vicky in her campaign to make things better for so many struggling and homeless families. Sign her letter to the Chancellor