Report (2nd Day)

Part of Welfare Reform Bill – in the House of Lords at 6:15 pm on 14th December 2011.

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Photo of Lord Freud Lord Freud The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 6:15 pm, 14th December 2011

Noble Lords will be aware that we propose to limit increasing the local housing allowance in line with the CPI index from April 2013. The aim here is to ensure that we continue to exert downward pressure on rents while looking at rent levels in local markets. The limit will apply only in areas where local market rent increases, at the 30th percentile, exceed the annual rate of CPI inflation. We have said that we are committed to making savings from this measure up to 2014-15. If it then becomes apparent that local allowance rates and rents are out of step, they can be reconsidered.

To prepare for this change, the Minister for Pensions set out in the uprating Statement the arrangements for fixing rates. The first uprating will be in April 2013. We have taken this step to ensure that CPI rating can commence from April 2013, but that nobody will see their ongoing award fall at that point as a result of LHA rates being uprated. As the annual rates will be set well in advance, we will be able to provide clarity and certainty to claimants and landlords. We will continue to monitor the path of market rents until 2015 and the Secretary of State will be able to review the LHA rate, or uprate it by some other method, should the need arise.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, pointed out, the future is uncertain. Clearly, you can draw any scenario you like; the point is that we need to watch it and we will watch it very closely. In particular, we may need to increase LHA rates if growth in rents and the CPI are so out of sync that there is a critical lack of affordable housing. To pick up on the noble Baroness's other point on extrapolating out to 2013, clearly we all recognise that over any kind of longer-term run rents tends to move with average earnings, not with average prices. Any extrapolation out that long will have a big gap, but we are not talking about that here. We are talking about a measure which is locked in for that two-year period at a time of great difficulty when we are trying to bear down on prices. Therefore, I do not think it is relevant for me to hypothesise about employment levels. That is not what is happening here.

On the point about data and monitoring and what Parliament can expect from us, we will provide to Parliament on an annual basis from late 2012 the relevant CPI data and the data on the 30th percentile of market rents. In addition, noble Lords should be aware that the Valuation Office Agency currently makes available quarterly data on market rents by local authority.

I should point to the major piece of independent external research that is already underway to evaluate the impact of the reforms to housing benefit announced at the June Budget and the spending review. Indeed, I need to thank the noble Lord, Lord Best, for the way that he shaped that research effort. The research will be comprehensive and will be presented to both Houses and the public alongside a ministerial Statement. The department is currently considering how this research could be extended-subject, of course, to funding-to allow it to look at the impacts of changes to local housing allowance uprating over a longer period.

I hope that I have reassured noble Lords that we are committed to monitoring and evaluating this change really thoroughly. On that basis, I urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.