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Homelessness: Housing Benefit

Volume 779: debated on Thursday 9 March 2017

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effect on levels of homelessness of the proposal to withdraw Housing Benefit from 18 to 21 year olds.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I refer noble Lords to my entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests.

My Lords, from 1 April, automatic entitlement to housing costs in universal credit will be removed for some 18 to 21 year-olds. This policy removes a perverse incentive for young adults to leave the family home and pass the cost on to the taxpayer. There is a comprehensive set of exemptions in place for the most vulnerable.

Last week, the Government made the announcement about the withdrawal of housing benefit from 18 to 21 year-olds. On the previous Friday in this Chamber, they supported the Homelessness Reduction Bill and said that they had identified money for that purpose. Does the noble Lord not see the absurdity and hypocrisy of those two decisions? Does he agree with the comments of the Member for Enfield Southgate in the other place, who described the decision to withdraw these benefits from 18 to 21 year-olds as “catastrophic”?

My Lords, I simply do not accept the point that the noble Lord makes. Yes, we supported that Bill and will support it again tomorrow, when I think it will have its Committee stage in this House. We will continue to do so and we will continue to protect the most vulnerable in relation to housing. But we also wish to make sure that young people do not slip into a life on benefits. That is what this change is about.

My Lords, currently, 19,000 18 to 20 year-olds on jobseeker’s allowance claim housing benefit. They are simply unable to live at home for a variety of reasons, including physical and sexual abuse. If housing benefit is withdrawn, how does the Minister think that these young people will be able to find jobs if they are living on the streets?

My Lords, not one of the individuals on jobseeker’s allowance to whom the noble Baroness referred will be affected. As I made clear in my Answer, this matter relates to those on universal credit. As we also made clear in another place, and I will make clear now, there is a considerable number of exemptions. I think that some 25 are listed in the regulations—I can go through them if the noble Baroness wishes me to do so—which offer protection for those who need it.

My Lords, given the massive increase that we have seen in the number of young homeless people on our streets, how will this policy help that situation?

My Lords, this policy will help that situation by encouraging young people to stay at home with their families rather than establishing themselves in a life on benefit. As we made clear, for those who need help, protections are in place. It is the noble Lord and those who wish to get rid of measures such as this who would condemn individuals to a life on benefit and cause far greater problems than we are addressing with this measure.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the beauties of housing benefit is that it is very flexible and can be focused where it is needed, and that it is the most efficient way of helping people who need affordable housing?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct in relation to housing benefit. It is right therefore to withdraw it for those 18 to 21 year-olds on universal credit who can stay at home.

Does the Minister accept that some young people in this age bracket have genuine reasons for wanting to live somewhere else? They might have no family or a dysfunctional family, or they might have to move to take up an apprenticeship or another important opportunity.

My Lords, I fully accept the noble Lord’s point. That is why he will find a list in the regulations—I do not want to delay the House by reading it out in full—of some 25 different exemptions for 18 to 21 year-olds. That will be operated in the most sympathetic manner, and I do not think that anyone with a genuine reason to leave home is likely to suffer at all. I am more than happy to show the list to the noble Lord and to others—but reading it out in full would waste the House’s time.

My Lords, there are so many reasons why young people choose not to live at home, but remarkably few of them do. If somebody is out there on their own aged 18, something else is going on. The Minister can give all the lists he wants, but people out there who have suffered from repeated bad decisions when they have applied for disability benefit or all kinds of other benefits will not trust them. Is it not the case that all the homeless charities have pointed out that the proposal is likely to increase homelessness? Even though there are young people who want to go out and rent independently, the National Landlords Association said:

“Never mind the nuances, all landlords will hear is that 18-21 year olds are no longer entitled to housing benefit … they just won’t consider them as a tenant”.

Have the Government thought about that?

Of course the Government have thought about it. That is why we are bringing forward this measure and why we will be working with stakeholders such as the National Landlords Association and others to develop appropriate engagement for landlords to make them understand how the new rules will operate. As I said, protections have been built into this that mean that no one who has to move away from home will suffer. We think it is right that there should not be a perverse incentive that encourages people to move away from home and live on benefits at the expense of the taxpayer.