My Lords, this Government are committed to tackling homelessness, and we do not accept that our housing benefit reforms will increase the level of homelessness. The changes do not necessarily mean that people will have to move, but claimants will have to make the same choices about affordability as those not on benefits. Reforming the welfare system in an effective manner is necessary not only to improve the wider fiscal position but to help to get people off benefits and into work.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that response. However, is he aware that more than 600,000 households could be affected by this change in benefits, that many people who are unable to meet the requirements under the new benefit arrangements will have no alternative but to get into arrears, and that, if they get into arrears, they will face eviction, which will result in homelessness, despite what the noble Minister has said?
My Lords, we are expecting a number of responses by people affected by what is effectively the removal of a spare-room subsidy. Clearly some will find that they are capable of paying to retain that extra room, some will look to work, some will look for lodgers and some will look for shared tenancies. Where the options are more limited than that, apart from downsizing, we have had substantial discretionary housing payments transferred to local authorities in order to ameliorate those situations.
My Lords, has the Minister considered the effect that these cuts are having on people? For instance, within the ward that I represent on Barnet council, one person in a two-bedroomed flat in a high-rise block will, because of the changes, have to pay an extra £14.50 per week from the beginning of April out of the very small amount of benefits they receive. This also applies to people on low working wages. This may be all right in principle and on paper but does my noble friend believe that it is possible where there are no one-bedroomed flats for those people to move into?
My Lords, I said that people will make a range of responses. Some will decide that the best thing they can do is to downsize and they will be supported in that. Clearly, in areas where there is no appropriate social housing, there is the option of moving into private rented housing. However, the essential point is that there is a limit to what the state can afford. We have had quite a lot of changes in the private rented sector, and this brings the social rented sector into line.
The Minister is concerned about the problems of caring families. Has he considered the issue of a carer who looks, say, after her severely disabled husband? The spare bedroom-the surplus bedroom as he puts it-is necessary to keep all the equipment, such as hoists and so on; and sometimes the carer needs to sleep there to have an adequate night's sleep. What arrangements can be made in that situation?
My Lords, that is exactly the kind of case that the discretionary housing payments are intended for. Where there are genuine problems of that nature, we would expect those payments to be made to support that particular family in its accommodation.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the pressure on the private rented sector? Many landlords operate a "no benefit claimants" policy, which causes significant problems in night shelters. Is the Minister aware of these problems caused by the shared accommodation rate and what are the Government doing to ensure that people moving on from a night shelter have somewhere to go?
My Lords, there were concerns ahead of our changes to the local housing allowance that private rented accommodation would not be available. I was pleased to learn that that in contradiction to this, in the key London area, where some of the pressures have been greatest, availability in the private rental sector for benefit recipients has actually gone up 5% since we introduced the LHA changes.
My Lords, when we introduced the local housing allowance changes in the private rented sector a year and a half ago, there were real concerns about homelessness, just as there are now. I stated to the Select Committee that we did not expect any significant increase in homelessness as a result of these changes. We have now run through the LHA changes-they were completed last December-and I am pleased to say that while there have been some modest increases in homelessness in London-it is up 600-odd households-that compares with predictions put out by Shelter and the Cambridge group that up to 134,000 people could move or be made homeless as a result. Your Lordships will understand that it is important to see what the results of some of these changes are, just as much in the social rented sector as we have seen in the private rented sector.
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the deepest concern expressed by a number of women's organisations, particularly those who work with women with young children fleeing violence? What assessment has he made of the impact of the benefit changes on those women fleeing violence with young children?
My Lords, we have taken steps to make sure that refuges and other supported exempt accommodation are protected. I am investigating how to do that on a strategic basis in the medium and longer term.