Ruled out of a room

THE BENEFITS VIEW The single room rent restriction is leading to homelessness for young claimants, writes Gary Vaux

There are clear links between the benefits system and youth homelessness. For example, you will often see “No young people” on the ads for accommodation in newsagent windows. Private landlords have come to realise that the current benefit system directly discriminates against young people who want a place of their own.

The particular benefit rule that causes the problem is known as the single room rent restriction (SRR) and there is overwhelming evidence that it is leading to homelessness and overcrowding for younger claimants.

The SRR rule means that most young people under the age of 25 who try to rent privately have their housing benefit limited to the average rent for a room in a shared house, whatever rent the landlord is charging.

A recent paper by Shelter and others says: “The single room rent restriction means that 87 per cent of under 25s claiming housing benefit face an average shortfall of £35.14 a week between what they receive in housing benefit and what they have to pay in rent. In many cases the result is debt, eviction and homelessness.”

And it’s not just the usual suspects who are upset about the SRR. A representative of the British Property Federation, the landlords’ organisation, says: “Supporters of SRR ignore the simple realities of the property market.

In most areas there is a significant shortage of the type of property that supposedly the SRR is meant to pay for. As a result, those on the SRR are left between a rock and a hard place; either to go without a roof over their heads, or pay a rent far beyond their means. However, the outcome of this failure to grasp simple economics is not theoretical, but ends up in real life tragedies and misery.”

It’s not only the SRR which causes problems and homelessness of course – the lack of help with rent in advance and deposits;
basic errors in housing benefit administration; inflexible rules relating to high rents; lack of state help with mortgage interest at times of crisis such as divorce or unemployment and so on, all play a part.

But, as bad as these are, none of them is deliberately designed to exclude a whole group of people from access to suitable
housing in quite the same was as the SRR restriction does.

Gary Vaux is head of money advice, Hertfordshire Council. He is unable to answer queries by post or telephone. If you have a question to be answered please write to him c/o Community Care

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