Eviction fears over direct payments
The introduction of the local housing allowance in the private sector could result in an immediate increase in homelessness, benefits experts have warned.
Government proposals to phase in the direct payment of housing benefit to private sector tenants could see vulnerable people turned out of their homes, Citizens Advice has warned.
The welfare reform green paper, published in January, said the government was considering awarding local housing allowance only to new claimants to begin with.
The flat rate benefit is due to be introduced in the private sector in 2007.
But Liz Phelps, social policy officer at Citizens Advice, criticised the proposals, saying they could encourage landlords to evict tenants in order to increase rents.
Landlords could legitimately push tenants out so that they could replace them with people on a higher benefit and charge them more rent, she warned.
Those made homeless could struggle to find somewhere else to live. 'Normally, if you are evicted and you are on housing benefit it is difficult to find alternative accommodation,' she said.
The private rented sector could also become destabilised. 'It could lead to a lot of churning in the private sector and I do not think that is in anyone's interest in terms of building sustainable communities.'
Benefit consultant Geoff Fimister said housing benefit chiefs were concerned about having to run a two tier system. 'Administrators look at that with a certain amount of horror [as] it will add a great deal of confusion.
'In areas where the local housing allowance is more generous then some people are bound to face being ousted by landlords,' he said.
'But what we do not know is what the scale of the problem will be.'
Richard Gard, policy officer at the National Landlords Association, admitted 'it could be a serious problem potentially for the most vulnerable people'.
But landlords would not ruthlessly evict vulnerable tenants, he added. 'When landlords go into the housing benefit sector they know the benefits and the drawbacks.
The vast majority of our members who take housing benefit tenants know they may be vulnerable.'
Kate Stanley, head of social policy at the Institute for Public Policy Research, said a phased approach would help cut down on those that could find themselves worse off under the new system.
'Not everyone is going to win from it so a gradual approach is the only way to avoid having many losers.'
The danger was that the housing benefit system would become more complicated in the short term, she said.