NHF welcomes decision to drop jobseeker penalty from Welfare Reform Bill
- Published on Friday, 18 February 2011 11:26
- Posted by Scott Buckler
The National Housing Federation has welcomed the Government’s decision to drop proposals from the Welfare Reform Bill to punish jobseekers by cutting their housing benefit by 10%The Government had been proposing to cut housing benefit for jobseekers who have been unemployed for more than a year. However, ministers have confirmed that this proposal has now been dropped from the Bill.
But the Federation has criticised the Government’s decision to press ahead with plans to effectively force out almost 700,000 households living in social housing through new housing benefit cuts for those households ‘under occupying’ their properties, with the result that most may effectively be compelled to leave their homes.
U-turn on housing benefit cut for jobseekers
The Federation has campaigned since the summer to persuade the Government to drop the proposal to cut housing benefit by 10% for those on jobseekers allowance generating high profile coverage in the national, regional and trade press – and winning the support of many MPs.
The Federation worked with Kate Green MP to table an early day motion calling for the plan to be withdrawn, which was signed by 75 MPs including Chair of the Work and Pensions Select Committee Anne Begg, Liberal Democrat backbench MP Bob Russell, and Labour MP Jon Cruddas.
The Federation has also been quoted in the national media on housing benefit cuts by David Miliband, and backed in Parliament by others such as Margaret Hodge and Frank Dobson.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: 'It is excellent news that ministers have listened to organisations such as the Federation and dropped the proposal to punish the unemployed by cutting their housing benefit if they have been out of work for more than a year.
'We felt the plan would have been unfair and unjust – as it would have punished the unemployed regardless of how few jobs there are in their local area and how hard they have looked for work.
'No Government saying that it will look after the vulnerable could possibly have introduced such a harsh measure.'
Housing benefit cuts for those ‘under-occupying’ their homes
The Federation has criticised provisions contained in the Bill that will allow the Government to introduce measures to effectively force almost 700,000 households living in social housing to leave their homes.
Under the proposals – outlined by ministers on previous occasions – housing benefit will be cut to households deemed to be ‘under occupying’ their properties, with the result that most may effectively be compelled to leave their homes, resulting in around 680,000 households living in local authority and housing association housing losing some of their housing benefit, with the result that many will struggle to pay their rent and could end up being forced to leave their home.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: 'The cuts to housing benefit for households deemed by the Government to be ‘under occupying’ are extremely harsh and could effectively compel thousands of people to leave their homes.
'Ministers have long promised to protect the vulnerable and yet these plans could force thousands of people to move out of homes they have lived in for many years.
'As a result of these changes, thousands of couples are no longer able to offer their grown up children a room to stay in should their circumstances change, and many single parents will be pushed away from friends, relatives and support networks.'
Benefit cap of £26,000
The Federation has criticised the Government for including a cap on welfare benefit payments in the Bill, which the Prime Minister has said will be set at £26,000.
Federation chief executive David Orr said: 'It is deeply concerning that ministers have decided to keep the £26,000 cap on welfare benefit payments.
'While we accept that something needed to be done about the growing welfare bill the introduction of a £26,000 cap is completely arbitrary and will leave thousands of large families across the country at risk of falling into poverty and possibly even losing their homes.'
He added: 'With the Government proposing to push rents for social housing up to near market levels from April, we fear that the £26,000 cap will mean that many families currently living in affordable housing will struggle to meet their rent payments and make ends meet.
Lack of parliamentary scrutiny
The Government plans to introduce detail on the under occupation cuts and benefit caps through regulations at a later date. This means that there will be less parliamentary scrutiny.
David Orr said: 'We would have liked to see more opportunity for debate and amendments to the legislation. These are critical issues affecting hundreds of thousands of families across the country.'
He added: 'We remain worried that harsh sanctions will leave people without enough money to pay their rent. It is vital that direct payments to landlords continue to prevent debt and homelessness.'
The Federation will continue to work with the DWP on the implementation of the Universal Credit and stress the importance of retaining direct payments in reducing homelessness and ensuring housing associations can continue to develop badly needed new homes.