Housing – is the government planning to move the goalposts?
The government looks to be about to cut the number of families with a right to be re-housed – at the same time as their benefit reforms look likely to produce a massive increase in homelessness.
Experts like the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing have warned about the impact of the planned changes to Housing Benefit. At the same time, the government’s defence of these changes looks increasingly threadbare. As Nicola has pointed out, the example the Chancellor has pointed to in justification apply to just three families; and I have reported on evidence from the British Property Federation rebutting claims that Housing Benefit pushes rents up.
Now the government seems to have a new tactic; the changes won’t increase the number of homeless families because they are going to change the definition of homelessness.
In evidence to the Work and Pensions select committee, David Freud said that the planned changes weren’t going to make people homeless. Oh no, they were going to make claimants “look at their financing, and cut their cloth to what they can afford.” The minister said it would be “quite valuable” to revise the current criteria – which are also the standards that define who local authorities have a duty to re-house.
In July, shortly after the Housing Benefit cuts were announced, Cllr Philippa Roe, the cabinet member for housing at Westminster City Council wrote to housing minster Grant Shapps to point out a consequence of the proposals. Westminster would be more affected by the changes than any other local authority, and if the law on homelessness was unchanged, the Tory-controlled Council would face a huge bill re-housing everyone who was forced out of their homes. She proposed, The Guardian has revealed, changes to the law to limit re-housing rights to people who have lived in the area for three years, to give Councils the ability to re-house people in areas chosen because they are cheaper and to re-house people outside their boundaries.
From Lord Freud’s remarks to the select committee, it looks as though the government is considering something along these lines.
Critics of the government have argued from the outset that the eventual consequence of the HB changes will be that the government has a choice between not making the savings it hoped for or weakening families’ rights to be re-housed. As Sunder Katwala points out, this is the first time that a minister has argued for this in public.
To misquote Tom Cruise,
Relax, it’s much worse than you think.