Campaigners and charities have responded angrily to new research showing that local authorities are refusing to offer homes for social rent to homeless people, claiming that benefit cuts mean vulnerable people can no longer afford even the cheapest housing.
Councils argue that homeless people are being denied social housing because recent welfare changes mean they are being regarded as “risky tenants”, who will all-most certainly fall behind on rent payments.
The realities faced by homeless people in accessing affordable homes are revealed in this year’s annual homelessness monitor, published by the housing charity Crisis.
Jon Sparkes, the chief executive of Crisis, said: “At the moment, there is very little scrutiny of how housing associations fulfil their legal duties to help people experiencing homelessness.
“Moreover, some see homeless people as risky tenants – in part due to certain welfare reforms – and will only rent to them if they can pass certain financial checks, making the huge challenge of finding a home near impossible.”
According to the research, councils and housing associations say renting to homeless peole is risky because they represent a “higher risk and [are] economically inactive”.
Homeless people are failing rigourous financial tests which calculate their ability to pay rent, and are likely to build up rent arrears.
One council told the study: “There have been cases where benefit-capped clients have failed such tests, meaning they are considered as not being able to afford the cheapest forms of housing available.”
Another local authority said this issue has only arisen in recent years, as cuts to vital social security and housing benefits have been slashed.
Councils agreed that: “Affordability/financial capability checks are making it more difficult for homeless households to access social tenancies in my area.”
Responding to the research, Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Data shows that the same proportion of new housing association lettings are going to homeless people as they were 10 years ago.
“Housing associations have not lost their social purpose but in the face of drastic government cuts continue to ensure people in severe need and on the lowest incomes can access social housing.
“We share the deep concerns of Crisis and local authorities that social housing is under immense pressure and changes to welfare are making it hard for people to access it.
“The answer to this problem is more housing, a properly funded welfare system and properly funded support services.”