Tuesday, 24 June 2014

Lib Dem MP Wins Fairer Deal For Tenants Told To Move Out By Labour

Cambridge MP Julian Huppert has won a fairer deal for tenants who were told by the Labour government to move out of the city to find cheaper homes.

Julian fought to get an investigation into the problems faced by tenants renting from private landlords and an increase in the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to allow them to stay in the city.

And yesterday (Monday, June 23) he was told the government has agreed to an independent review, to be published in the summer, on the adequacy of the LHA. After repeated lobbying from Julian, most of the LHA rates in Cambridge increased by four per cent this year, well above inflation. The increase affects four of the five Cambridge rates including that for shared accommodation for single people under 35.

Julian said: “LHA was set up by the Labour government but they deliberately set at a rate that meant that almost no-one could find somewhere affordable to rent in Cambridge. Tenants who needed state support but couldn't get a council house or space with a social landlord had no choice but to rent privately without enough money to meet the rent. They were expected to find a way to meet the shortfall which many of them were unable to do.

“Labour’s answer to their plight was to tell them that if they couldn’t afford to live in Cambridge they should get out of Cambridge.

“People were being forced out of the city because Labour failed to set up a system which properly reflected the situation in Cambridge – a shortage of affordable homes and an over-heated private rental market.

“I and my predecessor have been fighting hard to get this resolved so that the LHA takes into account the high rents in Cambridge and the lack of alternative homes.”

The problem occurred because LHA rates for Cambridge were based on average rents taken across a wider area including cheaper areas such as Littleport and Haverhill. The cross-party Department of Work and Pensions Select Committee in 2009 specifically highlighted the failures of the scheme in Cambridge, but Labour refused to act.

Julian raised the issue in the Commons yesterday because he was concerned whether under 35-year-olds had been made homeless in relation to the shared accommodation rate of LHA. Single tenants are given an amount which would pay the cost of a single room in a shared home despite the fact that they may have found a self-contained place of their own.

“The situation worries many of my constituents, and a recent study by Crisis showed that in many parts of the country such as Cambridge only a tiny fraction of shared houses are available for people to rent,” Julian told Work and Pensions Minister, Steve Webb.

“When he considers the review, will he change the broad rental market areas and ensure that people can find somewhere to live if they wish to be in Cambridge, Blackpool or any other location?”

Mr Webb said: “We have used targeted funding to provide additional local housing allowance rates in areas of pressure, so although the general increase in the LHA rate is one per cent, four of the five LHA rates for Cambridge, including that for shared accommodation, increased this April by four per cent.”

Later Julian said: “People have faced real hardship over this issue. I am pleased to see that we have been able to achieve an independent review into the whole system and an increase in the LHA rates for people in Cambridge.

“I will continue to monitor this situation to see how people are affected by the changes and it will be interesting to see the results of the review.”

The full wording of Julian’s questions and the answers are as follows:
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): What assessment he has made of the effect on homelessness among under-35-year-olds of the extension of the shared accommodation rate. 
The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Steve Webb): The Department has commissioned an independent review of the changes to local housing allowance, including the extension of the shared accommodation rate. The final report of that review is due to be published this summer. 
Dr Huppert: I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. The situation worries many of my constituents, and a recent study by Crisis showed that in many parts of the country such as Cambridge only a tiny fraction of shared houses are available for people to rent. When he considers the review, will he change the broad rental market areas and ensure that people can find somewhere to live if they wish to be in Cambridge, Blackpool or any other location? 
Steve Webb: My hon. Friend has made repeated representations about the broad rental market area for his constituency. We have used targeted funding to provide additional local housing allowance rates in areas of pressure, so although the general increase in the LHA rate is 1%, four of the five LHA rates for Cambridge, including that for shared accommodation, increased this April by 4%.