A recent investigation found that, out of hundreds of properties on Rightmove, only a handful were affordable on benefits
By Local Democracy Reporter Josh Mellor
Almost all private rental properties advertised in Waltham Forest are unaffordable for people on benefits, an investigation has revealed.
This July, the Bureau of Investigative Journalism surveyed Rightmove adverts for thousands of two-bed properties in East London and found 97% would not be affordable under the area’s Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates.
In Waltham Forest, split between two LHA rental areas, the Bureau says a monthly increase of £199-299 is needed for the lowest 30% of properties to be affordable to people on benefits.
The government has not raised LHA rates since April 2020, meaning those renting on benefits have to top up their housing benefits by applying to the council for support or dipping into their own income or savings.
Waltham Forest’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing and regeneration Ahsan Khan said the Bureau’s research shows an issue that London councils have been raising “for years”: that support offered to councils is “not enough” to help families facing rising house prices and increasing demand.
He added: “It is also clear that Local Housing Allowances and benefits should be raised in line with housing costs and inflation. It is a national scandal that families are unable to afford to live in the areas in which their friends and support networks are based.
“We urgently need more assistance, not just to build more homes for social rent but also to make sure we can provide a safety net for those in most need – especially as the cost of living crisis intensifies this winter.”
According to recent Office for National Statistics estimates, the average rent in Waltham Forest is £1,350 per month.
The Bureau’s analysis looked at 349 properties in outer north East London, one of the government’s Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMA) which covers Chingford and much of Redbridge, Barking and Dagenham and Havering.
Within that wide area, only 10 advertised properties would be affordable under the LHA rate of £1,058 per month, although with a £100 top up 50 properties would be affordable.
Residents who can no longer afford to rent privately in Waltham Forest may approach the council for help and be declared “unintentionally homeless”, meaning they are eligible for temporary housing at the council’s expense.
Due to the rising cost of housing, the council is placing an increasing number of households in temporary accommodation in cheaper areas of London or south east England – far from their support network, jobs and schools.
Last year, it emerged that Waltham Forest Council had been cutting the cost of temporary housing since July 2019 by permanently relocating more than 200 households to cities hundreds of miles away.
Those in temporary housing are often single-parent families who cannot afford the number of rooms needed to house their children.
Late last year, mother-of-three Izebela Kikosicka was evicted with 30 minutes notice from Waltham Forest-provided temporary housing in Bexley after she refused an offer of permanent housing in Derby.
Polly Neate, chief executive of Shelter, said: “Housing benefit should be the safety net that stops people becoming homeless, but it’s frozen at 2020 levels leaving renters desperately trying to make up the shortfall.
“Now, record-high private rents and rocketing prices are leaving even more renters fighting to keep a roof over their heads. The housing emergency is at the core of the cost-of-living crisis, but it is being ignored.”
When approached to comment, a government spokesperson said: “During the pandemic we increased Local Housing Allowance significantly and beyond inflation, benefiting over one million households by an average of over £600 over the year. We’re maintaining that boost, keeping support for private renters above pre-pandemic levels.
“We recognise people are facing pressures with the cost of living, which is why we have taken action through our £37 billion support package to help households with rising costs, including £1,200 this year for the most vulnerable.”
They added that Waltham Forest Council will receive £5,493,727 this financial year in homelessness prevention grant.