Memorandum submitted by the Centre for Research in Social Policy,
(13 November 2009)
Centre for Research in Social Policy
Centre for Research in Social Policy (CRSP) is an independent research centre
based in the Department of Social Sciences at
2 CRSP was a member of the consortium that evaluated the Local Housing Allowance Pathfinders for the Department for Work and Pensions. As part of this consortium CRSP had responsibility for the stream of research which focused on claimants' experiences and views of LHA and also contributed to the other research streams, including having responsibility for the operational case studies in three of the pathfinder areas - Coventry, Lewisham, and North East Lincolnshire.
3 In this submission CRSP would like to highlight some of the key findings that arose from the qualitative research with claimants in Pathfinder areas.
4 Reference for published report:
ISBN 1 978 1 84712 163 9
Claimants understanding of LHA and the claim process
5 Claimants' knowledge and understanding of LHA was limited. There was a lack of awareness of how their entitlement to LHA was calculated and how changes in their circumstances might effect the amount they received. Claimants were not aware of how much LHA they were entitled to prior to looking for accommodation and often only learnt how much they would receive after finding a property. Thus, LHA rates were not a source of information that claimants used in making decisions about where to live.
The impact of direct payments to claimants on claimants
6 Claimants had mixed views towards receiving direct payments. However, all but a few were managing their rent and making payments to their landlord. Most claimants prioritised paying their rent above all other financial activities and took this financial responsibility very seriously.
7 In a minority of cases claimants who had occasionally 'borrowed' from their LHA payment, using it as a flexible source of money that they paid back, had got into rent arrears. Where arrears occurred these were associated with the initial delay in processing a claim and due to other adjustments and stoppages of benefits. Managing rent payments could be made more difficult when payments from the local authority did not arrive on time and by the difference in the timing of LHA payments (fortnightly, weekly or every four weeks) and rent payments (monthly).
Objectives of LHA and whether they are met in practice
8 The transparency of LHA rates is intended to make it easier for claimants to find out how much rent would be covered by LHA payments when looking for somewhere to live. In the Pathfinder evaluation the objectives of 'transparency' and 'choice' were not being fully realised. In order to achieve this it essential that claimants are completely aware of their entitlement and of how the system works. Without this knowledge claimants cannot make informed choices about whether to live somewhere cheaper and receive an excess, or whether they would prefer to live somewhere more expensive and make up a shortfall. Thus, in practice claimants were not benefiting from the intended transparency of LHA and were not shopping around for accommodation with the aim of keeping an excess. Furthermore, the difference between LHA entitlement and rents was not always clear to claimants due to the discrepancy in rents being paid by calendar month and LHA being paid weekly or fortnightly.
Current research on the Local Housing Allowance National Roll Out
9 The Centre is currently undertaking research for the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) to explore (qualitatively) tenants' and advisors' early experiences of the Local Housing Allowance national roll out. This research forms part of the Department's two year review to monitor the impact of LHA at a national level.
The research explores:
· tenants understanding of LHA;
· issues arising from the direct payment of LHA to tenants and how tenants manage their LHA money;
· tenants' and advisors' opinions of the £15 excess entitlement policy and its possible removal;
· advisors views of the safeguards for identifying vulnerable claimants; and
· the impact of LHA on the work of independent advice agencies.
10 The research is being in conducted in five local authorities and has two main elements: group discussions with staff / advisors from the local authority as well as group discussions with advisors from independent advice agencies; and in-depth interviews with tenants. The findings of the research are due to be reported to DWP in March 2010.