Nine out of 10 councils have warned that an increasing number of people in their area on the lowest incomes will become homeless because the freeze on some housing benefits means they cannot afford to pay their rent.
Cuts made to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) and other benefits over the past eight years mean those who need it most are not able to cover their housing costs, according to a new report from housing charity Crisis, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) and Heriot-Watt University.
The charity asked 167 English local authorities about their experiences of dealing with homelessness. Seven out of 10 reported a rise in demand for their homelessness services in the past year alone. More than three-quarters of councils in the North and the Midlands reported a rise in the need for their services, as well as 80% across London.
One said the freeze to LHA in 2016 had been “a huge factor in the increase in homelessness, pushing families into a position where they cannot afford the private sector”.
Others reported that the mismatch between LHA and market rents was growing, and that the problems had been exacerbated by the roll-out of Universal Credit.
Crisis and JRF called for the government to restore LHA rates in Universal Credit to ensure they truly cover the cost of rent, and in the long term make major investment in social housing.
Nearly 90% of local authorities surveyed for the report said there is enough housing in their area for those who need it.
Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis, said: “Everybody deserves a safe and stable home to build their lives in, but it’s clear from councils that the growing gap between private rents and Local Housing Allowance is leaving far too many people at risk of becoming homeless, and keeping those already experiencing it trapped in a cycle of destitution.”
He said the government could fix the problem by tackling the issues underpinning homelessness.
Campbell Robb, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, said: “We know there is action we can take to fix the problem, starting by ensuring housing, social security and work offer reliable routes out of poverty. Local Housing Allowance needs urgent investment but the government must also take action for the long term by investing in the low-cost rented homes the country badly needs.”