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9 in 10 homes unaffordable to families relying on housing benefit

Fewer than ten per cent of homes are affordable to small families needing housing benefit in one third of areas across Britain, according to new analysis released today, pushing families into homelessness and forcing them to live in emergency or temporary accommodation.

The findings come as a new poll from national homelessness charity Crisis and Joseph Rowntree Foundation, reveals nearly three-quarters (73%) of the public agree that increasing housing benefit so people don’t lose their homes in the first place is better than spending on emergency accommodation. 

The analysis from Chartered Institute of Housing adds further weight to Crisis’ Cover the Cost campaign, calling for urgent investment in housing benefit so that it truly covers market rents, with the public backing the call for urgent action. 

Staying in emergency or unsuitable temporary accommodation, such as hostels and B&BS, affects 61,000 out of the 170,000 families and individuals experiencing the worst forms of homelessness in Great Britain. Government statistics show that since 2011, the number of children in temporary accommodation has risen by 81% as councils struggle to find affordable, safe homes for families.

Six homelessness charities - Centrepoint, Crisis, Depaul UK, Homeless Link, Shelter and St Mungo’s - have joined forces calling on the next Government to sign up to their manifesto to end all forms of homelessness and including a commitment to restore housing benefit to cover the cheapest third of rents.

Research6 published earlier this year by Crisis showed that investment in housing benefit would prevent more than 6,000 families and individuals from becoming homeless and lift more than 35,000 children out of poverty. The charity also said that housing benefit shortfalls meant that in many areas across the UK, there is little to no affordable private housing.  

Housing benefit was designed to help people on low incomes who are unable to meet the cost of private rent. In 2011 rates were set so people could afford the cheapest 30% of properties in their area. Since then, housing benefit has been cut and then frozen since 2016 so it does not make up the rent shortfall and is forcing thousands of people into homelessness. 

Eight years ago, Les hurt his back and was no longer able to work. He stayed with friends and family, but when his aunt became ill, he became homeless. Les applied for housing benefit and found that the rate he was offered was not enough to afford the cheapest of rents in his area. Les said:

“I quickly realised that on what they offered me in Housing benefit there was no way I could afford a private rented place. I also needed somewhere that was on the ground floor because of my health, so it just seemed impossible. The only option I had was a council flat, but the waiting list was years long. They sold all the social housing off in the 80’s and even the ‘affordable’ rents they are not really affordable. It’s a joke.

“I could easily have ended up on the street then, but I was put in touch with a charity that helped me. They helped me tremendously and supported me with the council. The process still took two years, but I was extremely lucky to get into my adapted council flat this February. Here the rent is very low, so I can afford it, but many other people I know are not so fortunate.

“I know people who’ve been made homeless because they couldn’t afford private rents on the level of housing benefit available.”

Jon Sparkes, Chief Executive at Crisis, said: “Ending homelessness is truly possible but we have to tackle the root causes, not just treat the symptoms. We need to see commitment from the next Government to sign up to our manifesto to end all forms of homelessness, which includes urgent investment in housing benefit.

“We constantly hear how the severe lack of affordable homes is leaving families going without food, missing bill payments and ultimately, being pushed into homelessness. We need to see action if we are to prevent thousands of people from losing their homes. The next Government cannot ignore the widespread public desire to change the system – it must do all it can to make sure everyone has a home they can afford.” 

To view the full manifesto, visit www.endhomelessnessnow.org.uk