Council calls for increase in housing benefits

Havering Council has called on the government to raise housing benefits following an investigation that suggests 97 per cent of housing in outer east London is unaffordable.

An investigation by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism has found that only 10 of the 349 two-bed homes advertised on Rightmove in July were affordable under current Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates.

Havering falls into the government’s LHA pricing area known as ‘outer east London’, which currently offers low-income residents up to £1,058 per month to help with housing costs – about £100 less than the average private rent in the borough.

The council’s cabinet lead for housing Paul McGeary said there is “growing demand” for help with temporary housing because residents are finding it increasingly hard to afford private rents.

He added: “Despite [temporary housing] being an incredibly expensive short-term solution – which we don’t want to have to use or rely on and that ultimately puts further pressure on our existing budget crisis – we have a duty of care to look after our vulnerable residents, which we take very seriously.

“The government cannot delay increasing the LHA or the housing benefit cap any longer, which is what we are lobbying for them to do.

“Otherwise, we will be facing further unsustainable pressures on the service as more people could become homeless in the coming months.”

The bureau’s analysis looked at 349 properties in outer north east London, one of the government’s Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMA) which includes Havering, Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham, and the northern part of Waltham Forest.

Within that wide area, which may not have included any Waltham Forest properties, only 10 advertised properties would be affordable under the LHA rate of £1,058 per month, although with a £100 top-up 50 properties would be affordable.

The bureau estimates that a monthly increase of £199 is needed for the lowest 30 per cent of properties to be affordable for people receiving LHA.

The government has not raised LHA rates to cover the lowest 30 per cent in rents since April 2020, meaning those renting on benefits have to top up their housing benefits by applying to the council for support or dipping into their own income or savings.

According to a recent council report, there has been a 40 per cent rise in people approaching the council for support with homelessness in the last two years.

More than 1,000 households spend an average of four years in temporary accommodation provided by Havering Council.

A government spokesperson argued that LHA rates are not intended to meet all rents in all areas and that £28.5billion is expected to be spent on supporting renters this financial year.

They added: “During the pandemic, we increased Local Housing Allowance significantly and beyond inflation, benefiting over one million households by an average of over £600 over the year.

“We’re maintaining that boost, keeping support for private renters above pre-pandemic levels.

“We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we have taken action through our £37 billion support package to help households with rising costs, including £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable.”

They also said that Havering Council is receiving a £2,344,362 homelessness prevention grant this financial year.

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Josh Mellor

Local Democracy Reporter