Planned changes to housing benefit could leave tens of thousands of the country’s most vulnerable people unable to afford rent on their homes, and forcing the closure of specialist housing schemes, the National Housing Federation has warned.
With changes coming into effect in April and many schemes already on hold, the National Housing Federation, with the backing of Age UK, Mencap and Women’s Aid, is calling on government to confirm that this new cap will apply only to people that don’t need extra support.
New figures from the National Housing Federation show that more than 50,000 households could be affected over the course of just one year, losing an average of £68 per week each. As a result, 82,000 specialist homes – including accommodation for people with dementia, women’s refuges and veterans’ services – would become unviable and be forced to close. This equates to 41% of all of this type of housing.
In November 2015, Chancellor George Osborne introduced a cap on Housing Benefit for tenants in the social sector. Many of these tenants live in housing schemes that provide extra care and support, with the higher rents and service charges often covered by housing benefit.
David Orr, chief executive of the National Housing Federation, called for urgent clarity from the government on whether this cap apply to those who are the most in need of extra help. “If this cap applies to specialist housing, tens of thousands of vulnerable people will be unable to afford the cost of their home and care,” he warned. “Huge numbers of people will be affected from older people and dementia patients, to disabled people and women fleeing domestic violence – they cannot go without specialist care and support.
“With building on new homes grinding to a halt, pipeline plans scrapped and schemes already preparing to shut up shop, this matter can no longer go unresolved.”
Polly Neate, chief executive of Women’s Aid, added: “Women’s Aid has been working alongside the government to ensure the national network of specialist women’s domestic abuse refuges is on a financially sustainable footing, so that the women and children fleeing violence in the home always have somewhere safe to go.
“An estimated 12,000 women will stay in refuge every year, more often than not, with their children. Uncertainty about the future of Housing Benefit payments is already directly impacting on services plans for the future and a risk to the future of refuge provision is a risk to women and children’s lives. We are urging government to make clear their intentions to exempt domestic violence refuges from these regulations as a matter of urgency.”
John Healey MP, Shadow Cabinet Minister for Housing and Planning, added: "In the Commons this week, Labour is calling on George Osborne to exempt supported housing from these cuts, and consult fully with housing providers to safeguard this essential accommodation.”