This article titled “Social housing benefit cap will put thousands on streets, say charities” was written by Patrick Butler Social policy editor, for theguardian.com on Sunday 13th March 2016 12.40 UTC
Thousands of homeless people will be evicted from hostels and supported housing as a result of government plans to cap housing benefit payments to vulnerable tenants, charities are warning.
The St Mungo’s charity said the local housing allowance (LHA) cap would lead to widespread bed closures, triggering a massive increase in rough sleeping. It runs more than 2,000 supported housing units in London and the south-east, where housing, support and sometimes care services are provided as an integrated package.
St Mungo’s will tell an MPs’ inquiry on Monday that proposed limits to housing benefit payments, coupled with a planned 1% reduction in social housing rents, will make most of its shelters and supported housing financially unviable.
The proposals to cut rents and cap LHA were announced by the chancellor, George Osborne, last year. Following an outcry, ministers subsequently delayed both policies for a year while a review was carried out, but charities say that only a full exemption will save supported housing services from disaster.
The St Mungo’s chief executive, Howard Sinclair, said the potential impact of the proposals on vulnerable people was “scary” and would leave the charity with an estimated £12m annual shortfall by 2019.
“If these services close, vulnerable people will end up in prison, hospital or on the streets. It means that the homeless – the people the government says it wants to support – will not have services,” he said.
A survey of St Mungo’s clients carried out last year found that many had high support needs. It revealed that 44% had significant physical health conditions, 72% had mental health problems and 56% had serious drug and alcohol issues.
In a separate submission to the inquiry, Homeless Link, which represents more than 500 homelessness charities, has warned MPs that if the LHA cap goes ahead, more than half of the 36,500 bed spaces for homeless people in England would be forced to close.
“At an individual service level, these losses would make the vast majority of residential homelessness services financially unviable, resulting in their closure and the eviction of their tenants,” it said.
The warning comes as ministers consider imposing a new legal “prevention duty” on councils to force them to help the growing numbers of rough sleepers and single people on the brink of homelessness.
The mooted “no one turned away” requirement would force local authorities in England to provide all residents who are homeless or at risk of losing their home with practical assistance to maintain a tenancy or find a suitable place to live.
Ministers are hopeful that there will be cross-party support, as well as backing from campaigners and charities, for placing a new prevention duty on councils.
Labour said that although it supported a homelessness prevention duty similar to that adopted by the Labour administration in Wales last year, any changes to the law must be accompanied by proper funding for councils and the scrapping of planned housing benefit reductions.
The shadow housing minister, John Healey, said: “Five years of deep cuts to homelessness services, reductions in housing benefit support, a failure to tackle soaring rents and funding for new social rented homes cut dramatically have all taken their toll.
“These cuts are set to bite deeper still in the rest of this parliament. George Osborne must use the budget next week to stop the spiralling homelessness, which is being driven by his own policy failures.
“He must rethink the cuts to housing and homelessness support, which are set to bite during this parliament, as well as strengthening the law to help prevent homelessness happening in the first place, as Labour has done in Wales.”
The LHA cap, which will bring housing benefit levels for social housing tenants in line with the private rented sector, was announced by Osborne in the autumn statement in November as a way to “prevent social landlords from charging inflated rent for their properties”.
Housing associations argue that the higher rent charged for supported housing reflects the cost of providing intensive care services for vulnerable tenants.
As well as homeless hostels, the proposed cap will also threaten domestic violence refuges and sheltered housing for elderly people.
A Department for Work and Pensions spokesman said: “We value the role supported accommodation plays in helping vulnerable people, which is why we are deferring the social housing reforms for this sector for a year while we carry out a review and consult with stakeholders to ensure it works in the best way possible.”
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