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The changes to the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) due to come into effect in 2019, will have an impact on lots of our tenants, including those of pensionable age. We asked all the prospective candidates standing to be the MP of our constituency what are their views on the local housing allowance?

LHA will link the amount of housing benefit a household on Universal Credit will get towards their weekly rent, to the rent charged in the private rent sector in 2016. From 2019 all tenants, even those on the lowest incomes (including people of pensionable age on pension credit), will be expected to make up a shortfall in their rent. We estimate that currently over 1,200 households, with a tenant of pensionable age as the head of the household, will be affected. There will be no protection for the large number of tenants of pensionable age that live in 2 or 3 bedroom homes, our case study below examines this:

Mrs X is 90 years old and has lived in the same 3 bedroom house in Dowlais, Merthyr Tydfil for the past 54 years.

In 2019, under the UK Government proposals, she will only receive £67.76 in LHA against her current rent of £83.32. She will have to find an additional £15.56 a week towards her rent out of her single person’s pension.

 

The table below shows the difference between our current rents and the allowance.

Type of house Merthyr Valleys Homes weekly target rent The amount of housing benefit that can be claimed from 2019 under the LHA
1bed flat £69.63 £67.76
1 bed house £79.96 £67.76
2 bed flat £73.85 £80.55
2 bed house £81.62 £80.55
3 bed flat £81.23 £87.75
3 bed house £89.78 £87.75

 

For young people under 35, the amount of housing benefit they can claim towards their rent is only £48 per week, meaning even renting one of our one bedroom properties they will be expected to make a rent contribution of £19.76 per week from their Universal Credit.

We wrote to each of the five candidates standing for election as MP for Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney, and set out the issues affecting Merthyr Valleys Homes in respect of LHA and asked them for their view:

Bob Griffin                  Welsh Liberal Democrats

Gerald Jones              Welsh Labour

Pauline Jorgensen      Welsh Conservatives

Amy Kitcher                Plaid Cymru

David Rowlands          UKIP

 

We received two responses, from Gerald Jones and Amy Kitcher.

Gerald Jones standing for Welsh Labour said:

As someone who spent many years as Secretary of my local Tenants & Residents Association and more recently as Cabinet Member for Housing for 3 years at Caerphilly County Borough Council, I recognise that the need for secure housing lies at the heart of people’s needs in order that they feel part of a caring society.

The LHA cap planned by the UK Conservative Government is an attack on less well off people in our communities. As we know, the geographical nature of LHA means that more deprived areas are hardest hit by these changes in comparison to somewhere like the Prime Minister’s constituency of Maidenhead where average social housing rents are more likely to be on a par or higher than the LHA rate.

 

The fact that your research shows that as at 21.02.2017, there were no properties to rent at anywhere near the LHA rate demonstrates how unfair this cap is and highlights how severely it will impact here in Merthyr Tydfil & Rhymney. As your example also shows, the Government support in the shape of Discretionary Housing Payment will have to be quadrupled to meet the need of tenants who be unable to afford to pay their rent under the current proposals.

As the Member of Parliament since 2015 up to dissolution on 3rd May 2017, I have already campaigned on this issue, raising the unfairness with the Prime Minister and the Leader of the House of Commons and as recently as March, I have called for a debate so that Parliament can examine the issue carefully.

If re-elected as the MP for our area, I will continue to campaign for a revision to the LHA rate cap at the very least to exempt older people as is the case with Bedroom Tax. If exemptions are not made, older people will be placed in an impossible situation, leading to high levels of poverty.

The changes by the UK Conservative Government are also particularly unfair to young people and this is again something I have raised with the Prime Minister as recently as 18th April.

I have already met with Llamau and Community Housing Cymru (CHC) to discuss the impact that these changes are having on young people and will have on older people particularly from 2019 across our constituency. If re-elected, I will continue to work with all stakeholders and campaign to raise awareness of the unfairness of the current arrangements and to bring about a situation whereby local housing allowance does what it should do and reflects local rents.

 

Amy Kitcher standing for Plaid Cymru said:

Cuts to Local Hosing Allowance are despicable. Plaid Cymru has campaigned against the cuts for several years. If elected, I would call for cuts to LHA to be reversed. In the interim, more needs to be done to make sure that people are aware of DHP (Discretionary Housing Payment) which is meant to help people whose Housing Benefit doesn’t cover the cost of their rent if they are affected by the bedroom tax or benefits cap. According to Shelter, the homelessness charity, Merthyr Tydfil Council had £167,424 from the Government for DHP but £23,000 had to be returned because the Council failed to allocate it to people in need. Across Wales, a total of £300,000 was returned, money which could have benefited people like Mrs X, the example case study. If elected, I would help people access DHP and would call on Merthyr Tydfil Council to ‘top up’ this fund. Monmouthshire Council, for example, added £60,000 to DHP last year.

In the long run, Plaid Cymru would build more social housing, so the overall cost of housing benefit would be reduced and more homes would be available to the families which need them.