Housing Benefit (Under-25s)

Oral Answers to Questions — Work and Pensions – in the House of Commons at 2:30 pm on 11th March 2013.

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Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough 2:30 pm, 11th March 2013

If he will bring forward proposals to restrict eligibility for housing benefit for people aged under 25.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

In June last year the Prime Minister commenced a debate on the cost to the taxpayer of meeting the £2 billion bill for automatic entitlement to housing benefit for people aged under 25. Although that is not current Government policy, I have had a number of representations on the issue—not from the Opposition, but from others.

Photo of Peter Bone Peter Bone Conservative, Wellingborough

If the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State are in favour, I cannot understand why that is not Government policy. With so many under-25s who are hard-working having to stay at home with their parents, why are the Government spending £1.8 billion a year housing under-25s who are on benefits? I cannot see how that is fair.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

My hon. Friend is right that the bill for under-25s in receipt of housing benefit is in the order of £2 billion a year. Some 370,000 under-25s claim housing benefit, and 42% of them are without children. However, the reality is that when we looked at that in the round prior to the spending review, it was agreed that it was not a priority area for the coalition. No doubt he will continue to campaign for it to be a priority area, and I am very happy to discuss the matter with him.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

The Secretary of State has decided to move forward with his benefit cap in four pilot areas in London. How much has he decided to compensate Haringey council for making it a guinea pig in that way?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

I do not believe that there is any need to compensate anybody. We have already told all those councils that they are not guinea pigs; they are actually getting very close support and advice. I think that it will be a tremendous success story. What they are doing is learning, along with us, about any issues that might arise, and we have already said very clearly that we will support them through any extra costs and expenses. The right hon. Gentleman’s party has to recognise that the reality is that the cap is right. The public support it because they are tired of seeing people getting more on benefits that those who are in work, so setting the cap is right. He needs to ask why his party keeps voting against it.

Photo of Julian Huppert Julian Huppert Liberal Democrat, Cambridge

I and my Liberal Democrat colleagues are delighted that that proposal did not become Government policy and will happily keep making representations on it. Although it would be wonderful if all under-25s had a loving and stable family to live with, does the Secretary of State accept that that is simply not the case? Will he meet the YMCA to understand the realities facing many under-25s and continue to provide them with the support they need to have somewhere to live?

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

Yes, I would be very happy to meet my hon. Friend and any group of people, such as the YMCA, he wishes to bring to me. I simply say this: we have a significant problem, because we inherited a welfare budget approaching £200 billion that had risen out of control under the previous Government. He is fully aware that we have to reform it both to get people back to work and to ensure that we get the cost under control. Those are all areas we have looked at, but in those discussions we decided that, in the round, it was not a priority.

Photo of Stephen Timms Stephen Timms Shadow Minister (Work and Pensions)

On Friday morning I met a 19-year-old autistic young women whose family home, which is rented from the council, with housing benefit, has been adapted at public expense, but now they are very worried because they are deemed to have one bedroom too many. Surely the bedroom tax should not apply when a council house has been specifically adapted for the occupants at public expense.

Photo of Iain Duncan Smith Iain Duncan Smith The Secretary of State for Work and Pensions

The right hon. Gentleman knows very well that that is the point of discretionary housing payments—[Interruption.] Opposition Members can groan, but we have put more money into discretionary payments to sort these things out than they ever did when they brought these in. The reality is that there is money for them to do just that. I remind him that the National Housing Federation has estimated that in his area of Newham some 3,000 people are under-occupying and some 5,000 are overcrowded. Perhaps he would like to take his own side to task for never doing a thing for those struggling in overcrowded accommodation.