Welfare reform making it harder to help people in need of housing

Welfare reform is putting pressure on the way social housing is allocated and making it more difficult to help people who are in the most need of housing, according to a new survey.

The Chartered Institute of Housing (CIH) questioned social landlords and strategic housing authorities across England, and found that 94 per cent of landlords are experiencing increased pressure on their allocations and lettings systems.

It came just a few days before the government’s latest consultation on allocations – which proposes new guidance to ‘encourage’ councils to prioritise people with a local connection – closes on Friday.

The proposed guidance would ‘strongly encourage’ councils to adopt a two-year residency test – but the CIH survey found that 50 per cent had already reviewed and amended their allocation policies to do so.

The survey revealed that welfare reforms such as the bedroom tax and the benefit cap have created a new breed of difficult to let homes.  64 per cent of respondents reported falling demand for two and three-bedroom flats and three-bedroom houses because people who would normally have been offered those homes can’t afford to meet the shortfall between rent and housing benefit. And almost two-thirds of respondents said there was a lack of smaller homes for tenants deemed to be under-occupying to move into.

Housing providers reported an increase in costs and the amount of time homes lie empty between tenants. The reforms are also making it more difficult for organisations to allocate and let homes in a way that supports neighbourhood sustainability – for example, they are sometimes unable to avoid housing children in flats or allocate homes which families can grow into.

Almost half (44 per cent of respondents) said a big pressure was a lack of capacity to meet demand from people in the most urgent need of housing, including homeless households.

CIH chief executive Grainia Long said: “Landlords are working hard to mitigate the impact of welfare reform but this survey highlights the worrying pressures that are building up.  We are in the grip of a housing crisis, with millions of people in need of a home they can afford.  In that context it is deeply concerning that available homes are now difficult to let because of their size, and that housing providers are struggling to meet demand from homeless people.”

She added: “The government’s latest consultation on allocations focuses on prioritising local connections, but we believe it misses the mark.  It is more about inaccurate perceptions of who gets access to social housing than it is about the real issues councils and social landlords are facing.”

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