Borough’s poorest residents set to benefit from increase in housing benefit cap

The move comes days after housing lead Ahsan Khan urged chancellor Jeremy Hunt to raise the local housing allowance rates to cover the cheapest 30% of properties, reports Josh Mellor, Local Democracy Reporter

Credit: Sigmund via Unsplash

The government will increase a benefit cap that has made housing in Waltham Forest virtually unaffordable, days after Waltham Forest Council’s deputy leader urged him to do so.

Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates, which many of the borough’s poorest residents rely on it to pay for their accommodation, have been frozen since April 2020.

When the LHA was first introduced in 2008, local rates were regularly reviewed to ensure they would cover the cheapest 30% of properties in each area.

Last year, a Bureau of Investigative Journalism analysis of local Rightmove adverts for thousands of two-bed properties in East London found 97% would not be affordable under the frozen LHA rates.

However, in his Autumn Statement this week Chancellor Jeremy Hunt promised LHA rates will be raised to cover the cheapest 30% of properties from April next year.

Ahead of the Autumn Statement, Waltham Forest’s deputy leader and cabinet member for housing Ahsan Khan had urged the Chancellor to support councils by lifting LHA rates.

He said the council “simply cannot” find suitable local homes to temporarily house residents who are at risk of homelessness if the rates remained for a two-bedroom property.

Cllr Khan said that the Chancellor should act “if not with compassion then with strategic overview” to avoid the “myriad of problems” associated with homelessness.

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According to the Office for National Statistics, the average monthly rent for a two-bed property in Waltham Forest was £1,440 per month, while LHA rates have been frozen at about £1,200 per month.

Due to the rising cost of housing, the council places many households in temporary accommodation in cheaper areas of East London or south east England – far from their support network, jobs and schools.

In 2021, it emerged that the council had been cutting the number of households it supported in temporary housing since July 2019 by permanently relocating more than 200 households to cities hundreds of miles away.

While some parents have launched legal challenges to the policy that reached the Court of Appeal, one mother who refused found herself evicted at short notice.

Earlier this year it also emerged that the team of council housing officers managing hundreds of cases was “eight full-time staff short”.

This meant that staff on the team dealing with residents at risk of homelessness had about 70 cases each, more than double the amount councils are advised to have.

This led to a culture of “housing families in crisis” rather than early intervention and prevention, a senior officer said.

Following Jeremy Hunt’s announcement, Cllr Khan said: “After considerable campaigning, I am relieved that the Chancellor has finally listened and will be unfreezing Local Housing Allowance.

“This will allow people on low incomes the opportunity to access more affordable housing options whilst also preventing homelessness.

“We will continue to campaign for better housing for Waltham Forest residents.”

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