Housing Benefit

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 24 October 2011.

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Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East 2:30, 24 October 2011

What estimate he has made of the potential number of tenants who could accrue rent arrears as a result of implementation of his proposals to restrict housing benefit for social tenants in accordance with household size.

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

We have made no estimates of the number of tenants who would get into rent arrears as a direct result of implementing our proposal, as it is not possible to predict exactly how people will respond to the change or what choices they might make in response to a potential shortfall.

Photo of Heidi Alexander Heidi Alexander Labour, Lewisham East

The Minister says he has made no such assessment, but the Housing Futures Network estimates that eight out of 10 tenants will struggle to make up the shortfall in lost benefits as a result of these proposed changes, with a third likely to go into rent arrears. That will increase the level of bad debt of housing providers and is likely to mean less investment in new affordable homes. Is the Minister concerned about that?

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

I am grateful to the hon. Lady for drawing our attention to the Housing Futures Network research. What she did not quote was the fact that a quarter of respondents said that they were likely to downsize, which presumably means making better use of the housing stock, while 29% said that they would be either quite likely or very likely to move into work or increase their hours, which is a positive response. There are real issues about rent arrears; we are working closely with social landlords to assist, but there will be positive impacts from these policies, which also need to be borne in mind.

Photo of Andrew Bridgen Andrew Bridgen Conservative, North West Leicestershire

Hard-working families in my constituency often see families on housing benefit receiving more than they themselves receive as a result of going out to work. Can my hon. Friend confirm that as a result of the new measures it will always pay to work?

Photo of Steve Webb Steve Webb The Minister of State, Department for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend will be aware that we have a range of policies to ensure that it pays to work, my right hon. Friend the Secretary of State's universal credit being central among them. The caps on housing benefit and the limit to the 30th percentile in the private sector are also designed to level the playing field between those in low-paid work and those on benefit.