Housing benefit cuts could leave thousands homeless in London

Ministers are pursuing a populist welfare cuts agenda and turning a deaf ear to the consequences of cutting housing benefit, an adults' social services director has warned.

Ministers are pursuing a populist welfare cuts agenda and turning a deaf ear to the consequences of cutting housing benefit, an adults’ social services director has warned.

Martin Cheeseman, Brent Council’s housing and community care director, said that many inner cities would become no-go zones for housing benefit claimants if the coalition government’s proposed changes go ahead.

“I don’t think ministers are hearing that,” said Cheeseman, the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services housing lead. “We’ve been listened to by the Department for Work and Pensions but whether that will lead to any changes is open to conjecture. It still can be quite popular for ministers to be seen to be cutting welfare and that’s the difficulty we are facing.”

Cheeseman was reacting to the results of a survey of landlords released today by London Councils, which found 82,000 households – potentially equating to 250,000 Londoners – risk losing their homes in the city under the planned changes.

These include capping payments to private tenants so they can only afford to live in the 30% cheapest properties in their local area, down from 50%; increase payments in line with the consumer price index measure of inflation, rather than the higher retail price index; and chopping the benefit by 10% for those who have been on jobseeker’s allowance for more than a year.

Housing benefit will also be capped for each property size, with a maximum of £400 per week for a four-bedroom property.

The London Councils survey found that about 60% of landlords surveyed said they would not lower their rent by any amount if the tenant could not pay the full rent due to the planned cuts.

London Councils said this would mean that many tenants would be made homeless, forced to move into overcrowded accommodation, or have to move to less expensive boroughs, putting pressure on services like schools.

Cheeseman warned that other big metropolitan conurbations, such as Sheffield and Manchester, could face similar problems.

London Councils is urging the government to provide an extra £10m for councils to help tenants meet shortfalls in rent and for landlords to be paid housing benefit directly, which could save 22,000 households from eviction.

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