HCLG Committee calls for LHA rates that ‘reflect real market rents’ | News

HCLG Committee calls for LHA rates that ‘reflect real market rents’

The Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee are calling on government to ensure renters are protected in the private rented sector.

It its interim report on protecting rough sleepers and renters, the Committee says “the Government should guarantee that the rate be maintained at the 30th percentile in the long-term, and undertake an analysis of the impact of further rises in LHA rates on renters and the wider rental market.”

The report, which took in evidence from housing organisations across the sector, also recommended government to dedicate at least £100m per year “in long term housing support” or risk thousands who are currently in temporary accommodation returning to the street.

The Committee further warns of a looming homelessness crisis as private sector renters currently unable to pay rent, face building up debt or losing their homes when the current ban on evictions expires.

The report says that the government has been provided “with a unique opportunity to eradicate rough sleeping in England once and for all” after housing 90% of rough sleepers in response to COVID-19.

The Committee calls on the Government to work quickly to develop a housing based exit strategy and identify the level of funding required to support it.

They say that this should be a “dedicated funding stream that enable local authorities to ensure people are accommodated safely and securely”, but must also provide for the additional support services to tackle the range of issues rough sleepers may face.

The Housing First pilots provide an ideal model for such support and the rollout across the country should be accelerated, they say.

HCLG Committee urge the government to “work with the Local Government Association and National Housing Federation” to help councils and housing associations acquire properties and remove any restrictions on Right to Buy receipts so that 100% of sales can be used for these acquisitions and replacement of stock.

The report warns that despite the evictions ban, there are many private renters who are in danger of being evicted as soon as the ban is over.

They call on the government to amend the existing legislation, for example the Housing Act to “enable judges to use discretionary powers where a tenant is in rent arrears due to Covid-19 for the next 12 months, that compels tenant and landlord to work together to find a solution and removes the option of eviction as the first resort”.

Chair of the Housing, Communities and Local Government Committee, Clive Betts said: "We must praise the efforts of all those who have done so much to help take people of the streets during the current health emergency, but what happens next is crucial.

“It is simply not good enough for anyone to leave temporary accommodation and end up back on the streets. This isn't just about protecting vulnerable people from Covid-19.

“It is not safe to live on the streets in any circumstances and it is not acceptable to allow it to return once the health crisis abates.

“In our report we have called on the Government to grasp the golden opportunity that has presented itself. For the first time in over a decade, rough sleepers have been comprehensively taken off the streets and given accommodation. This must become the new norm.

“As it stands there are two main risks that need to be addressed if the current low levels of rough sleeping are to continue.

“Firstly, the Government needs to fund a comprehensive housing-led exit strategy for those currently being housed in short term accommodation during the Covid-19 crisis, which we estimate will cost around £100m a year.

“Secondly, the Government needs to amend legislation to ensure those in the private rented sector who have been caught up in the economic fallout of the pandemic are not evicted when the freeze on eviction proceedings ends. 
 
“In our interim report we have set out what the Government will need to do immediately in terms of funding, policy and legislation.

“There can be no question that we have to ensure no one is forced to live on the streets, we now expect the Government to put this achievable goal into long-term reality.

“We will continue our inquiry to explore how to deal with other long-term issues, such as the crucial issue of rent arrears."

Ben Beadle, Chief Executive of the National Residential Landlords Association, backed the proposals to have LHA rates better reflect market rents, saying: “Our research shows that the vast majority of landlords approached for help by tenants struggling as a result of coronavirus are responding positively.

"We want to see that continue to ensure tenancies can be sustained. We have long called for benefits to cover rents which would be by far best option for tenants and landlords alike.

Cllr David Renard, Housing spokesman for the Local Government Association, said: “We are pleased that the Committee has backed our call for councils to be able to spend 100% of money from Right to Buy sales and combine receipts with other government funding pots.

"This, alongside extending the deadline to spend the money to at least five years, is critical to allow councils to get on with the job of building the new homes that people in their areas desperately need.

“MPs are also right to recognise the need for councils to have ongoing and consistent funding from government in the weeks and months ahead.

"This, alongside continued flexibility to decide locally how best to spend it, is vital so they can tackle the specific pressures they face in their local area, including homelessness and rough sleeping.”