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Board-And-Lodging Changes

Volume 114: debated on Thursday 9 April 1987

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asked the Secretary of State for Social Services whether he will be changing the arrangements for paying benefit to people in lodgings following the issue of the consultative document "Help with Board and Lodging Charges for People on Low Incomes"; and whether he will make a statement.

The consultative document proposed that from April 1988 unemployed people in lodgings should be eligible for housing benefit to meet their accommodation costs and income support for their other needs. This change would replace existing provision whereby supplementary benefit meets both housing and living costs.Over 170 responses were received. There was widespread acceptance of the principle that any differences between benefits payable to boarders not in work and other claimants should be based on actual differences in their circumstances. Most who commented recognised that change on the lines proposed was logical but a number of practical concerns were raised. The local authority associations, in particular, argued strongly that the change should not be made in April 1988 when local authorities will be fully occupied in starting to administer the new housing benefit scheme.The Government accept the force of this argument, and have decided to implement the change from April 1989, one year later than originally proposed. In the run-up to the new system, detailed arrangements for the transition will be worked out with local authorities, especially those in areas with high concentrations of boarder claimants. Discussions will also continue with local authority and other interests on the position of boarders in supported lodging schemes, on whose behalf it has been argued that similar considerations arise to those affecting hostels. As indicated in the consultative document, the Government intend to defer a final decision on arrangements for hostels in order to set them in the context of the current work on related aspects of community care. The position of people in supported lodgings will also be considered in this context.There is clear research evidence that the lifestyle and circumstances of boarders are close to those of the far larger number living in other multiply occupied dwellings. Paying higher rates of income support to some or all boarders, as some have suggested, would simply perpetuate the distortions our proposals are designed to rectify. The Government have therefore decided that, from April 1989, the generality of people not in work in ordinary board and lodgings should qualify for income support and housing benefit in the same way as everyone else. For ease of administration and certainty for claimants, deductions from housing benefit in respect of meals provided will be fixed at standard rates. This is the course preferred by local authorities. On the basis of current information about food costs, the deduction for breakfasts only would be of the order of £1, and for full board £11·50.During the interim period from April 1988, boarders will continue to receive benefit on broadly the same lines as now with some adjustments to align these provisions with the new structure of income support. Time limits will continue to apply to benefit for younger boarders until the new system is introduced.The Government remain committed to provision for boarders which will enable real needs to be met while keeping expenditure under control and curbing abuse. The system to be introduced from April 1989 will not only achieve those ends, but remove a source of distortion in the housing market and secure equity between boarders in and out of work, and income support claimants in all types of tenure.