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Volume 171: debated on Wednesday 25 April 1990

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To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment whether he will issue a definition of affordable rents.

Housing benefit is available for those tenants who would otherwise have difficulty affording their rents. In addition, subsidies to local authorities and housing associations enable rents to be kept within the reach of people in low-paid employment.

Yes, we know that, but the Minister was asked for a definition of affordable rents, given that rents vary for different reasons. Council house rents have been forced up by the Government, housing association rents have been forced up by the new financial arrangements and the pressure of interest rates, and housing benefit levels set a maximum rent of £55. The combination of all those factors, in addition to the reduction in the number of people claiming benefit, is to trap people on low pay in their poverty. That housing policy is against the declared aims of the Government and forces people into a poverty trap. What do the Government propose to do about it?

Average council rents at about £24 a week are far from unaffordable. The hon. Lady will accept that what is an affordable rent in any given case must be a subjective matter.

Is my hon. Friend aware that there is a considerable difference between many council rents and the rents charged by the all-too-small private rented sector? Does he agree that those who are fortunate enough to have council homes should pay realistic rents for good accommodation and that the revenue from such rents should be used to accommodate people who are in housing difficulty?

I agree with my hon. Friend. It is the Government's policy that people who occupy council housing and can afford to pay reasonable rents should do so and that those who occupy council housing and cannot afford the rents should be entitled to housing benefit.