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Benefit Claimants: Rent Arrears

Volume 690: debated on Monday 8 March 2021

We do not collect information about individuals’ rent accounts. For universal credit claimants with rent arrears, alternative payment arrangements and support with budgeting are available. In 2020-21, we are projected to spend almost £30 billion on housing benefit and the housing element of universal credit to support people with their housing costs.

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The evidence produced by the National Residential Landlords Association and a lot of housing charities demonstrates that rent arrears are growing and growing very fast such that they will probably never be repaid. What action will my hon. Friend take to ensure that rent arrears are eliminated and further assistance is provided to people who genuinely cannot afford to pay their rent?

I thank my hon. Friend for his question. He is a strong advocate on these issues. As I say, managed payment to a landlord is available where universal credit claimants are unable to manage monthly payments and are at risk of financial harm. That can be requested by the tenant, landlord or work coach. Our relatively new online tool makes it easier for landlords to request a managed payment to landlords. UC also enables a landlord to request recovery of rent when a UC claimant is in arrears or once a tenancy reaches two months’ rent arrears. I agree to some extent with my hon. Friend. Rent arrears concern me too and we continue to monitor the situation very closely.

Of the 1.3 million universal credit households who are claiming housing support for their properties in the private rented sector—that is, the people who are most at risk of homelessness as a consequence of rent arrears—in more than 700,000 cases, so more than half, there is a shortfall between the rent being charged and the help available. That number has grown by a quarter of a million since the start of the pandemic. With housing support being cut again in the Budget, will the Minister answer this one question? Will that number have gone up or fallen during the remainder of 2021?

We increased the local housing allowance rates in April 2020. We invested nearly £1 billion in LHA, lifting rates to the 30th percentile, giving an average increase of £600 more housing support per year than would otherwise have been received. For 2021-22, all LHA rates will be maintained at the increased level, ensuring that claimants continue to benefit from the increase. For those who require additional support, £140 million of discretionary housing payments are available next year.