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Housing Benefit (Midlands)

Volume 406: debated on Monday 9 June 2003

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9.

What progress has been made on housing benefit pathfinders in the midlands. [117291]

We are testing a new standard local housing allowance in 10 pathfinder local authority areas, starting from this October; one such area is Coventry. Public consultation by the Social Security Advisory Committee on draft regulations for the scheme ends today, and officials are working very closely with the 10 authorities to help set up the pathfinders.

As is traditional for Back Benchers in pre-reshuffle fortnight, I warmly congratulate the Government on the housing benefit pathfinder initiative for private sector tenants, which will undoubtedly drive down fraud and widen choice and personal responsibility. Can I point out, however, that three-quarters of housing benefit cases are tenants of local authorities or registered social landlords? When do the Government expect to roll out the new approach to embrace those millions of cases? Will they reflect on authorities such as my own, North-West Leicestershire, which has one of the best track records in the midlands for processing housing benefit? How can we learn from such authorities?

It is right to embark on a radical reform of housing benefit, so that we can empower tenants and give them greater choice in their local communities. There are some difficulties and questions, which is why we are running a pilot for the private rented sector in 10 areas and evaluating it carefully. Yes, we do want it to apply in the social rented sector, and I hope that, before too long, where conditions allow, we will pilot the scheme in a social rented sector area as well.