The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) has been accused of “peddling lies and deliberately misleading the public” about the impact of upcoming cuts to housing benefit, which could leave thousands of young people struggling to keep a roof over their heads.
Upcoming cuts to housing benefit for tenants in the social rented sector, which come into force from early 2019, will see housing benefit for people living in social housing capped at the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rate – the equivalent of housing benefit for tenants in the private rented sector.
Single people under 35 years of age without children will also see their housing benefit limited to the shared accommodation rate of LHA, meaning a person living in Dundee will have the maximum amount they can receive reduced from £79.24 per week to just £57.69.
The director of Angus Housing Association, Bruce Forbes, has described the cuts as “absolutely horrendous”, and warned young people would see their housing benefit slashed to “the equivalent of a room in a boarding house”.
A DWP spokesperson responded to Mr Forbes’ concerns by saying the changes were “about restoring fairness to the system and ensuring that those on benefits face the same choices as everyone else”, adding: “existing tenancies signed before April 1 2016 will be unaffected”.
But Mr Forbes said the comments made by the DWP spokesperson are “blatantly untrue”, insisting: “All tenants irrespective of their tenancy start date, if they are on Universal Credit, will have their housing costs capped at Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates.
“Tenants on Housing Benefit will also have their benefit capped at LHA rates if their tenancy started after April 2016.
“These facts were laid out in Damian Green MP and Lord Freud’s ministerial statements to their respective Houses of Parliament in November 2016. If I can find this information from the UK parliament website, should we not presume that an employee of the DWP can access these facts too?”
Speaking to Scottish Housing News, Mr Forbes went on to accuse the DWP of attempting to “deliberately mislead the public by implying that it is the increasing cost of social housing sector rents that has seen the Housing Benefit bill spiral out of control”.
He added: “In their statement, the DWP claim ‘Over the last 5 years, average rent increases in the social housing sector have increased at more than double the rate of those in the private rented sector’. Another check of the facts from official government figures shows this to be totally false.
“According to the Scottish Government’s official statistics, average private sector rents for a 2 bedroomed property have increased by 13.7 per cent in the last 5 years while the available data from the Scottish Housing Regulator shows social rented sector rents increasing by only 7 per cent over the 3 year period from 2014 to 2016.”
Mr Forbes concluded: “Of course, the big thing that is missed out by the DWP in this whole discussion is the disparity between rents in the Private and Social rented housing sectors.
“While the monthly private sector rent for a 2 bedroomed property in Scotland in 2015 was £610 per month, the comparative figure for the social rented sector was only £310 per month.
“Some private rented sector homes can be afforded by households without the subsidy of Housing Benefit. This is where the landlords and the standards are usually very good.
“Unfortunately, the historical under investment in social housing for many years has forced more and more poorer households to rely on private renting. It is in this part of the private rented sector where standards are much worse.
“In my experience, some could only be described as modern day slums but rents are still much higher than a council or housing association charges and are subsidised by public money through Housing Benefit.
“Instead, however, of tackling these abuses in the private rented sector at source by better regulation of slum landlords who are making a living out of the misery of poor people, the choice has been made to heap all of the pressure to cut the Housing Benefit bill on to the poorest in our society who can least cope with it.
“This is a return to the kind of welfare system we had in the 19th century and needs to be vigorously opposed.”