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Housing Allowance

Volume 450: debated on Monday 9 October 2006

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what information he has given to the Scottish Executive on the implications of the introduction of the local housing allowance (LHA) in Scotland; and what provisions there are to ensure that registered social landlords receive rent for properties where LHA payments are made directly to tenants who may be involved in chaotic lifestyles and who could find themselves evicted and homeless if rent was not forwarded to a landlord. (89329)

I have had a number of discussions with the Scottish Executive's Minister for Communities about plans to extend local housing allowance to tenants across the private rented sector. In addition, copies of the published evaluation reports on the pathfinder authorities are routinely sent to the Scottish Executive.

While we have no plans to extend the local housing allowance approach to the social sector, we are pressing ahead with plans to encourage more social tenants to take responsibility for managing their own rent payments. However, we recognise the need for adequate safeguards to protect the interests of both tenants and their landlords and we will explore this issue with stakeholders across the social housing sector, including the Scottish Executive, before finalising specific proposals.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what mechanism is to be used to ensure a consistency of approach in the setting of local housing allowance rates by all rent offices across the country. (92351)

The Rent Service in England has targets for quality and accuracy set by the Secretary of State. These are published in The Rent Service Business Plan and reported on in The Rent Service Annual Report. To achieve these targets, the Rent Service provides common guidance to all rent officers across England to ensure a consistent approach to the setting of the local housing allowance, including the regular review of the broad rental market areas.

In Scotland and Wales, the same statutory framework applies to setting local housing allowances. The Rent Registration Service will work to apply this consistently in Scotland. In Wales, the Welsh Assembly Government will provide appropriate guidance and oversee monitoring arrangements to ensure consistency.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what mechanism is to be used to ensure transparency and accountability in the setting of local housing allowance rates. (92352)

The Rent Service ensures transparency in a number of ways, including consultation with stakeholders prior to the publication of The Rent Service Business Plan which includes key targets set by the Secretary of State covering quality and other aspects of service delivery performance. The Rent Service publishes details of performance against the Business Plan in the Annual Report and provides an annual review of the lettings market in the private rented sector in The Rent Service Valuation report.

The agency has an Advisory Board, which provides advice to the Chief Executive, ensures accountability and comments on the strategic direction of the agency. The Advisory Board also advises Ministers of the agency's aims, objectives and performance. The Advisory Board is composed of stakeholder representatives including DWP, Department for Communities and Local Government, the Local Government Association and an external member that chairs the Rent Service Audit Committee.

The work of the Rent Service is also subject to scrutiny by an internal audit and annual scrutiny by the National Audit Office.

In Scotland, setting local housing allowances is the responsibility of the Rent Registration Service, which is part of the Scottish Executive. The Chief Rent Officer is responsible for ensuring that the mechanisms used by the Rent Registration Service are transparent and accountable.

In Wales, similar mechanisms exist as in England to ensure transparency and accountability in the setting of local housing allowance rates as applied by the Welsh Assembly Government.

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what other forms of rent control have been considered alongside the introduction of local housing allowance. (92353)

The local housing allowance, which we plan to roll out from 2008, is at the core of housing benefit reform. We do not intend to implement other major changes to the calculation of a housing benefit claimant's eligible rent at this time.