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(4) In respect of determining the local housing allowance, the rent officer upon request, shall make available within a reasonable period the evidence and data used to calculate the local housing allowance.
(5) In determining the broad rental market area or areas in relation to a local authority, the rent officer, upon request, shall make available within a reasonable period the evidence and data used to determine the broad rental market area or areas.
(b) within which a person could reasonably be expected to live having regard to facilities and services for the purposes of health, education, recreation, personal banking and shopping, taking account of the distance of travel, by public and private transport, to and from facilities and services of the same type and similar standard; and
Mr. Love: The amendment would end the shared room rate at the age of 21 rather than at 25, as at present. It is a compromise that we hope reflects the debate held in Committee, which I read with great interest.
I tabled the amendment for several reasons. It maintains the shared room rate principle that seems so important to the Government, but for a more restricted age range. Twenty-one better reflects the age of maturity, or majority. When I was a kid, the saying was that at 21, we got the key of the door. The amendment attempts to reflect that reality.
More seriously, by the time most young people reach 21, they have had a period of training and many will have had significant periods of employment. They will have made a contribution to society and that should be reflected in the way we treat them in the benefits system by the provision of full housing benefit. That would help them to achieve independence and the stable accommodation necessary for them to fulfil their lifes ambition.
A number of issues in the Committee debate were of great interest to me. The first was the supply of shared accommodation, a subject that took up much time during the debate, which surprised me. Several Members talked about the recommendation in the Barker housing review for a much larger supply of social rented accommodation, as well as the need to increase the overall building of houses and the impact of buy-to-let on the provision of additional accommodation in the private rented sector. Some of those things are being achieved, but no one, either in the Committee debates or Ministers in other debates or in answer to questions, has suggested any specific plans to increase the amount of shared accommodation that will be necessary for young people if the single room rate is maintained. That is important as it is widely recognised that there is scarcity in some parts of the country; indeed, shared accommodation is almost non-existent in many areas.
I welcome the previous extension of the definitions of single room rent and shared room rate and the further changes proposed in the Bill, but part of the reason for widening those definitions was the hope of increasing supply of that type of accommodation. However, research conducted after the first widening in 2001 showed clearly that it had no impact on young peoples ability to access accommodation. Similarly, research on the pathfinders project found no appreciable difference in either the supply or quality of accommodation, so the changes did not help.
There have been negative features. It is becoming increasingly clear that many landlords are reluctant to rent to people on housing benefit, which particularly applies to young people and to those on the more restricted shared room rate suggested in the Bill. Not only is their housing benefit restricted but their jobseekers allowance and income support is paid at a lower rate, which makes them an even less attractive proposition to landlords.
It has been noted that there has been a decline in the number of houses in multiple occupation. It is clear that whatever the reasons areI am sure they are complexthe number of units of shared accommodation offered by landlords in the future is likely to continue to decline. Neither the Bill nor outside factors are doing anything to increase the supply of such accommodation. Indeed, the solutions are long term, as Barker proposed, but if we are to address the problems faced by young people we need shorter-term solutions.
Lynne Jones: In some areas there has been a substantial increase in the availability of HMO accommodation, but it is generally in areas surrounding universities, where there is demand from students and much money to be made by buy-to-let landlords. However, those landlords are not at all interested in letting to young people who need housing benefit, or a contribution from housing benefit, to afford their rents.
Mr. Love: My hon. Friend is undoubtedly correct. For those and other reasons, landlords are increasingly reluctant, in whatever part of the private rented sector, to consider people on housing benefit, which particularly affects young people.
Costs were not much discussed in Committee, but they are important. Any estimate of the cost of the amendment would vary according to the assumptions written into it. If behavioural factors are not taken into account, the DWP estimates the cost of the proposal at about £20 million. On that basis, we can assume that my amendment would cost about half thatabout £10 million; but to be sure, let us say £12 million, as there may be more people at the top rather than the bottom of the system.
When behavioural factors are considered, we have to go back to before the restriction was introduced. The number of people in such accommodation is 12,000 at present but was about 32,000 in 1996, before the introduction of the restrictions, so when we add in behavioural factors we reach a figure of £30 million. During the debates in Committee I was interested to hear the Minister suggest that part of the reason the number of people in single room rent accommodation had gone down was the fact that many more of them were in employment. If we take that into account, the figure is likely to be smaller. None the less, whichever way we work out the figure, my amendment is unlikely to cost any more than £30 million or, if we take behavioural factors into account, £40 million or £50 million. To put that into context, about 800,000 people who live in the private rented sector are in receipt of
some form of housing benefit and the overall housing benefit bill is about £12 billion. This is a modest amendment.
Much discussion took place about tenant empowerment. When the restriction was introduced, it was suggested that tenants should negotiate with landlords, but the research carried out in 2001 blew out of the water the idea that that was a practical reality. The latest proposals suggest that tenants in whatever part of the housing benefit regime should be able to shop around because they will know in advance what their housing benefit is likely to be. The evidence from the pathfinders does not offer a great deal of support for that proposition. Although there has been a welcome and recognised fall of about £3 in the gap between the rent that tenants pay and the benefit that they receive, the percentage of those under 25 who are affected by a shortfall has stubbornly been maintained at 70 per cent.
David Lepper (Brighton, Pavilion) (Lab/Co-op): On the point that my hon. Friend has just made about tenants shopping around and the experience of the pathfinders, it might help him to learn that I spoke this afternoon to Julia Harrison, the housing manager for Hove YMCA, which manages housing for young people in the city of Brighton and Hove. She tells me that one of the consequences of the single room rent is that young people are forced into inappropriate shared accommodation often with no proper tenancy contract at all. That makes them increasingly vulnerable. They have certainly not been empowered.
Mr. Love: I thank my hon. Friend for that intervention. I agree entirely. Where there is a lack of supply and the shortfall is so significant, it is likely that all the power will be in the hands of the landlord rather than in the hands of the tenants, who will be forced into situations not of their choosing.
Mrs. Madeleine Moon (Bridgend) (Lab): In a similar vein, I have been talking to local housing providersLlammau and Hafods Yellow projectand to my local authority and the assistant director responsible for housing. Along with the Welsh Assembly Government, they have called for the abolition of the single room rent. The person to whom I spoke from Llammau made the point that the best outcome that young people can currently hope for is debt. The worst outcome is eviction, harassment, repossession and severe debt. A Labour Government cannot allow that to continue. Does my hon. Friend agree that we need to give these particularly vulnerable young, who do not live in the idyllic world of Friends and do not share a luxury apartment, the opportunity to move forward?
I agree entirely. I was about to come to the wider Government objectives that will be achieved by the Bill, but I did not want to comment particularly on poverty, homelessness and social exclusion. My hon. Friend has done so on my behalf, so I shall focus my brief remarks on incentives to work and on the disincentive that the proponents of this restriction suggest occurs. They suggest that if the restriction did not exist, those on housing benefit would have an incentive to stay out of work because they would get
better accommodation than they would have if they were in low paid employment. However, that view fails to recognise reality in a number of respects.
First, the restriction affects those in work and, in particular, those in low paid work who will receive the shared room rate as part of their housing benefit. Secondly, the restriction has not been effective. The research shows clearly that it has not been effective in encouraging claimants to enter shared accommodation. The proportion of young people in shared accommodation has declined since its introduction. The shortfalls in the shared room rate concept exacerbate hardship for young people, including those who are employed and facing enormous difficulties in sustaining employment. The restriction has created a whole generation of what we term the hidden homelessyoung people living on the sofas of friends and relatives. The lack of stable accommodation will threaten the employment and the employment prospects of the young people concerned, and the evidence shows that quite clearly. A whole series of negative consequences have occurred because of the introduction of the restriction.
My amendment would do a number of things. First, it would maintain the principle enshrined in the shared room rate that the Government feel is important in the new housing benefit regime. It would also allow those who have reached the age of maturitythe amendment sets that at 21to obtain the more settled accommodation that I hope would provide them with the springboard for better employment prospects and to realise their ambitions. That is what the Government say is their overwhelming objective for young people. The amendment would achieve the objectives that the Government have set, and I commend it to the House.
Danny Alexander: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Edmonton (Mr. Love), who has rightly stated the strong case in principle for the change that he proposes. In Committee, I moved an amendment similar to amendment No. 5, which is on the amendment paper today. It goes a little further than his amendment in that it proposes the abolition of the shared room rate altogether. I do not know yet whether he intends to press his amendment to a Division. If he does not, may I indicate at this stage, Madam Deputy Speaker, that I intend to divide on amendment No. 5, if that is in order?
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