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Local Housing Allowance

Volume 502: debated on Monday 7 December 2009

7. What recent assessment she has made of the effectiveness of the rules governing local housing allowance. (304068)

We are taking forward a review of the first two years of the operation of local housing allowance. In many respects, it is effective, but we will shortly consult on the reform of housing benefit. Our aim is a system that is fair to customers, landlords and the taxpayer.

Does the Under-Secretary agree that more private rented accommodation might become available if tenants could opt to have their LHA paid directly to the landlord? The landlord would thus be guaranteed to receive the rent and tenants would not be at risk of accumulating unmanageable debt.

I am afraid that we have no independent evidence to support the hon. Lady’s proposition. Indeed, the number of people living in the private rented sector has increased by 200,000 since November 2008.

The local housing allowance was designed to give people an incentive to shop around; if they could get a rent for below the going rate, they could keep the difference. However, the Under-Secretary knows that the Government plan to scrap that. In those circumstances, why would landlords offer rents below local housing allowance level? Will not they simply put up rents as a result? Is not that a direct transfer from the taxpayer to landlords?

At the moment, we are considering the consultation responses to our proposals about the £15 excess. We will respond to that in due course. I am afraid that I do not accept the hon. Gentleman’s proposition. We believe that the freedom that we have given tenants enables them to shop around. It also gives them more choice, enables them to manage their benefit payments and open bank accounts, and improves their financial inclusion generally.

But why do the Government persist in refusing tenants’ request to have their local housing allowance paid directly to their landlords? That is what tenants want. There is much evidence to show that money goes straight to loan sharks or drug dealers. The policy also reduces the supply of social homes to local housing allowance tenants. When will the Government give tenants the choice for which they are asking?

As I have said, the evidence is unclear. The feedback that we have had from local authorities generally is that most tenants manage their benefit payments and do not get into increasing arrears. Choice is only one aspect of the local housing allowance; responsibility is a key principle. I would have thought that the hon. Gentleman would accept that principle.