Today my colleague John Holmstrom and I have written to the Members of Parliament for the three constituencies in Brighton and Hove, Simon Kirby (Brighton Kemptown0, Dr Caroline Lucas (Brighton Pavilion) and Mike Weatherley (Hove) regarding changes to how housing benefit entitlement will be calculated in the years to come. Here is an extract from our letter:
“We are writing to raise our concerns with you regarding the likelihood of a significant increase in homelessness and rough sleeping in Brighton and Hove as a result of measures announced in Tuesday’s budget.
“Together we have a total of 50 years experience working in Brighton and Hove with men and women who are homeless. We have an understanding of what works and can recall times, including in the mid 1990’s, when an unintended consequence of a change in Housing Benefit payment levels resulted in a massive exit of private sector landlords and a massive increase in rough sleeping. We believe that the changes in housing benefit regulation announced in the budget will see a repeat of this.
“There is a great deal of technical information but the bottom line is that changes in Housing Benefit entitlement, if it was implemented today, could see a typical single person over 25 in Brighton living in an average one bedroom flat lose £28.50 from their weekly Job Seekers Allowance. JSA is currently £64.50 which would leave them with just £36.00 to live on.
“The LHA in Brighton and Hove for a one bed flat is currently £149.59 per week. The current formula is based on the median rent for such properties in the City. In future it will be at 30%, not the median, resulting, on a conservative estimate of current market rents, in a weekly reduction in housing benefit eligibility of £15.00 although rents are unlikely to be reduced. There will be a further reduction for those on Job Seekers Allowance (JSA) for 12 months who would see their entitlement reduced by a further 10% or £13.50 per week.
“This is bad news all round. The individual will be left with just £36.00 for food, heat and light, clothing and other essentials, the landlord is likely to see an increase in bad debts, and the local Council will have more people being evicted.
“Fortunately the most damaging aspect of this change is due to be implemented in 2013, so there is still time for the government to think through the implication of its decision. The coalition government has pledged to protect the poorest, but this seems to be going against that commitment.
“The economy in the City has remained buoyant in spite of the recession, and people still want to move here. It remains a ‘landlord market’ in Brighton. There is no reason why a landlord will drop their rent to £135 and then to £121.50, and there is no commercial interest for landlords to rent to those on benefits given the likelihood of an increase in bad debts. Most private landlords have just one or two properties and we cannot rely on altruism. They cannot afford it and it does not make commercial sense.
“This issue will particularly affect Brighton and Hove given that we have a very large private rented sector (24%) and a relatively small social sector (less than 15%). This measure will impact particularly on single households of which, demographically, there is a high proportion in the City.
“We can foresee a return to the position in the mid-1990’s where there was a massive exit of private sector landlords and a massive increase in homelessness and rough sleeping.
“There has been an amazing amount of good partnership working in Brighton and Hove involving organisations such as CRI, Sussex Central YMCA, and BHT. In particular, Brighton and Hove City Council can take a lot of credit for the steep reduction in homelessness and rough sleeping. It is a shame that all these achievements may be undermined by these changes”.
We have urged our representatives to raise these concerns with Ministers.