Sunday, 24 May 2015

Homeless granted shared room rate exemption

The government has granted some homeless people an exemption from controversial housing benefit changes.

In regulations laid before parliament yesterday the government revealed that it had bowed to lobbying from the homelessness sector over plans to reduce housing benefit payments to people under the age of 35. The regulations revealed that people who have lived in homeless hostels for at least three months will be exempt from the changes.

The changes follow last year’s announcement from the coalition government that it would raise the age – from 25 to 35 - at which it would pay single people enough to cover the cost of renting a one-bedroom flat. Instead they will be given enough money to rent a room in a shared house.

The changes to the shared room rate, which is lower than all other housing benefit payments, will be introduced in January 2012.

The government claims the change will save up to £215 million by 2014/15.

Homelessness charities had warned that the new rules would have a negative impact on people who were moving out of hostels as they took the first steps to independent living. St Mungo’s estimated the change would affect a quarter of its 1,500 residents who might not find it easy to share because of poor mental or physical health.

But Tuesday’s regulation change revealed that a person would be exempted if he or she had ‘for a total of at least three months (whether or not continuously), occupied as his home one or more hostels for homeless people’. While living in the hostel the benefit claimant would also have to have ‘been offered and has accepted support services with a view to assisting him to be rehabilitated or resettled within the community’.

Homelessness charities welcomed the exemption but said they were disappointed the government had not granted more exceptions – or dropped the plans altogether.

Leslie Morphy, chief executive of Crisis, said: ‘We are very disappointed that the coalition has forged ahead with this pernicious cut in the face of mounting evidence that there is simply not enough shared accommodation available and with no indication of where the tens of thousands of people affected are meant to live.

‘We are pleased that the government has recognised some of our concerns that shared accommodation is completely inappropriate for formerly homeless people.

‘It is baffling, however, that they can’t see that the same is true for other vulnerable groups such as those with disabilities or mental health problems, those fleeing domestic violence or parents who need to have their children to stay.’

The regulations laid before parliament also revealed that ex-offenders who pose a serious risk to the public, such as sex offenders, will be exempt from the change.

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