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Housing Benefit Reforms

Volume 523: debated on Monday 14 February 2011

We have had, and have responded to, many representations on the review of the housing benefit reforms. Most recently, my noble Friend Lord Freud met with Lord Best to discuss the review and our intention to commission a team of independent, external researchers to undertake the task.

The Secretary of State will be well aware of the severe and long-term shortages of housing currently faced in Waltham Forest, as in many London boroughs. Given that there are 1,500 people aged 26 to 35 currently in receipt of housing benefit in Waltham Forest, where does he think they will be living next year if his plans to change the shared room rate go through?

One consequence of the reforms to housing benefit will be that the local housing market will change. We anticipate, for example, that some of the larger properties might find themselves converted into houses in multiple occupation, although we do not know exactly what will happen. One problem is that over many years we have seen inadequate house building taking place under the hon. Lady’s Government.

In the Public Accounts Committee, we heard from civil servants about the impact of housing benefit and other benefits that make for an extremely complex and complicated benefit system. We have also heard about the enthusiasm for having a universal benefit as a way of cutting through that. Talking of representations, would not these changes have been easier had we not had representations on where the money was left?

My hon. Friend is quite right that Labour Members’ answer to most questions is “More money,” but when we asked where the money had gone, we were told that there was none. Housing benefit is probably one of the most complicated benefits in the system; it is at the end of the line when everything else has been worked out. The sooner we can integrate it into universal credit, the better.

On Friday, I met a group of residents at a hostel run by the North Wales Housing Association. Those people have very little prospect of employment in an area of such high unemployment, yet they might face a reduction in their benefits. Does the Minister accept that that sort of cut might threaten the viability of hostels such as the Pendinas hostel that I visited on Friday?

The budget for discretionary housing payments across the country will be trebled over the coming years, so that additional funding will be available for particular difficult cases. One thing we want to do is enable people to get back to work, where jobs are available, and the universal credit process will increase the financial return and people who take low-paid jobs will have a greater ability to afford somewhere to rent.