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Housing Benefit (Shared Accommodation)

Volume 529: debated on Monday 13 June 2011

18. If he will assess the potential effect on the level of homelessness of the extension of the shared accommodation rate for housing benefit to single people aged under 35 years. (58799)

19. If he will assess the potential effect on the level of homelessness of the extension of the shared accommodation rate for housing benefit to single people aged under 35 years. (58800)

An equality impact assessment on this measure was published on the DWP website on 9 May 2011, but it does not contain a specific estimate of the impact on homelessness, because we cannot anticipate the behaviours of tenants or their landlords.

One of the big problems across the board for people aged under 35 is that, because of where they live geographically, or because of medical reasons or their lifestyle, they might simply be unable to reduce their housing costs and share, and therefore could face eviction. That would put more pressure on local authority housing departments, which are already under pressure because of the lack of affordable housing. Do the Government have any plan to help those local authorities meet those increased pressures?

We do indeed, and my hon. Friend, who has a strong track record on housing issues in this House, raises an important point. Over the next four years we will add a total of £190 million to the money going to local authorities, around two thirds of which will be discretionary payments to help just the sort of difficult cases that he mentions, plus other funding for local government to assist them.

I welcome that answer, but is it not likely that perhaps a third or more of the discretionary housing payments budget will be required for the disabled alone—and that is without considering other vulnerable groups—if local authorities decide to use it to stop them being forced to share? Is there not a case for simply exempting certain groups from the change altogether?

I can assure my hon. Friend that certain disabled groups have a blanket exemption: those who qualify for the severe disablement premium are automatically exempted from these proposals.

There is a particular problem in rural areas, where the housing stock is inflexible and where it is difficult to provide rooms for under-25s, let alone under-35s, as the North Wales Housing Association pointed out to me recently. It fears the drift to HMOs—houses in multiple occupation—particularly in seaside towns and urban areas. Can the Government introduce any flexibility on this issue?

Although HMOs are one response to the problem, young people will have a range of alternatives, which will differ from individual to individual. For example, one third of single people aged 25 to 34 live with their parents. I recognise that this is not an option for some, but it may be an option that others will take up. Some will use the Government’s “Rent a room” scheme—whereby an owner-occupier will rent out a room, from which they can get more than £4,000 tax free—and some may be able to rent a room from a social landlord, which is something that we are looking to explore more.