The Government have, therefore, given a clear undertaking that housing benefit will be available to qualifying tenants paying rents up to open market level. Let there be no doubt about our total commitment in that respect. However, a tenant who has all or most of his rent met by housing benefit does not, obviously, have the same incentive to bargain with his landlord to keep the rent to a reasonable level as would be the case if he were paying it from his own pocket. We do not believe that the Exchequer, which provides up to 97 per cent. direct subsidy on housing benefit, should be expected simply to underwrite any rent that the landlord demands. Therefore, it is essential to have an independent check on the rents being paid from the public purse to ensure that those are not significantly above market level—in other words, above the rents being paid by tenants who are not in receipt of benefit.
The task of operating such a check is to be given to rent officers and the purpose of the orders is to lay down how it will be carried out. Besides considering claimants' rents, rent officers will also look at the size of their accommodation. We do not believe that full Exchequer subsidy should generally be available where a claimant is living in unduly large accommodation. Local authorities have long had powers to limit benefit in such circumstances.