Locked Out – Housing benefit freeze is making and keeping people homeless
Families on housing benefit are priced out of almost all homes to rent in districts across Kent, according to new research by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, in partnership with the Shepwayvox Team (SV Team) and other media outlets.
Research shows only 1.75% of two-bed properties in all the districts in the chart below were affordable. In the market rental areas of Kent, the Bureau & SV Team found just 17 two-bed flats to rent out of 969 advertised were affordable to those claiming the Local Housing Allowance: Canterbury had six, Ashford three, Maidstone three, Medway & Swale three Dover & Folkestone & Hythe two and Thanet had none. Moreover, even the affordable homes are often out of reach, because most landlords won’t let to benefit claimants – as the Bureau & SV Team found when we and they called 200 landlords across Britain and thirty here in Kent.
The local housing allowance (LHA) was frozen as part of the government’s austerity policy in 2016. The allowance, which varies from region to region, was supposed to cover the cheapest 30% of the local rental market. However, since the freeze rents have kept rising.
In a new and extensive piece of research, the Bureau collected the details of 62,695 two-bed rental properties across England, Wales and Scotland that were advertised on a single day. This consists of a day’s “snapshot” of all available two-bedroom properties for rent in the UK advertised by Nestoria (a property search engine that pulls in property ads from multiple sites.) By mapping these against the LHA rates in the Kent area, we found just 1 in 57 properties were actually affordable to people on benefits in Kent.
Our Council have taken to using monetary incentives to get landlords to take tenants. In 2017/18 it was ten times and the total amount offered was £13,550. In 2018/19 it was thirteen times and the total amount offered was £14,500. The largest single payment made by our Council was £2,000 for a two year tenancy.
In Canterbury, a district where 75,000 are eligible to vote, just 6 of 211 properties were affordable, while in Thanet, not a single two-bed flat was available.
The situation is dire as the data above shows, Dover and Folkestone & Hythe District had two properties that were affordable, out of 158 that were advertised. Is it any wonder then that 240 households have been sent away from the Folkestone & Hythe District and placed into temporary accommodation elsewhere in the last thirty months, as there was no appropriate accommodation in the district. In our district , which has an LHA rate of £115.07 a week, out of more than 150 homes advertised as for rent, only two were affordable – TWO.
Across Kent and the country, people are regularly having to rent more expensive homes and top up their housing benefit with other funds to cover the shortfall. The Bureau’s analysis found that the average British council would need to raise their benefit allowance by £100 each month to make the cheapest 30% of the two-bed properties sampled affordable.
Refusal to let to those on benefits makes the shortage of affordable properties even worse. Reporters from the Bureau contacted the landlords of 180 two-bed properties that would have been affordable on housing benefits. In each case the reporter claimed to be a single mother with an 8-year-old daughter.
Half of those landlords said definitively that they would not let to anyone on benefits. Of those that were left, more than half said they would consider letting to our hypothetical family, but only if they could fulfil further conditions, such as paying six months’ rent in advance or providing a guarantor. One property site asked for a week’s rent in advance to even talk to the landlord.
While many of the 30 landlords we contacted only refused to let when contacted in person, some were more blatant in their bias against tenants on benefits. The SV Team analysed the text of some of the advertisements and found 12 that explicitly stated “No pets. No DSS [a slang term for benefits claimants]” or “no housing benefit”. They have been reported
The Bureau’s work highlights the plight of those at the bottom end of the financial spectrum in our district. As they use more of their income to top up there rent, that means less for bills and food, which means for some a reliance upon foodbanks. As figures show use of foodbanks in Kent has risen by 15% between 2017/18 and 2018/19 according to data provided to us by the Trussell Trust.
The use of money meant for bills and food having to be spent on rent also means more debt issues. Between 2002/03 and 2018/19 in excess of 22,000 bailiff letters have been sent to people across our district. That is equal to 1,294 letters a year on average, or nearly 4 letters a day for the last seventeen years.
Being locked out of housing as the Bureau’s data shows does not just cause a homelessness issue, it creates debt issues, wellbeing issues, employment issues and food issues, to name a few. We must change this. This Governemnt must increase LHA rates if we are to reduce the number of homeless households in our district and this country.
Main Image: Illustration by Harry Woodgate
The Shepwayvox Team
Not owned by Hedgefunds or Barons
Awesome piece of collaboration. Thank you.
Some landlords are forcing s21 notices on tenants to get them to get an incentive as you rightly point out. Some are doing it to kick tenants out and then put the rent out with no intention to sell the property. They won’t build more houses as they want to keep prices high deliberately. Tenants in most cases are victims of a broken system and I wouldn’t trust any of our politicians, regardless of party, to fix this issue.
Aged pensioner, excellent rent record and references now I need a guarantor, like a teenager starting out! Demeaning and demoralising. But then I need to find a property that I can rent on nearly 17000 per year. My concern is, I am too old to work, would love to do a few hours per week but who employs 70 year olds? So, not enough income to house myself in a decent property and no way of increasing income. Guess under the bridge is next.