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Women’s Aid — [Dr William McCrea in the Chair]

Part of the debate – in Westminster Hall at 3:33 pm on 14th March 2012.

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Photo of Maria Miller Maria Miller The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions 3:33 pm, 14th March 2012

There are a number of specific points, such as the one just made by the right hon. Lady, that I want to go into. I will deal with her point first.

We currently support around 170,000 claimants living in supported accommodation through housing benefit. They receive on average an extra £40 a week in housing benefit in recognition of extra costs. We expect higher payments for that sector to continue. I hope that the right hon. Lady feels that that starts to answer some of her points.

The right hon. Lady also asked several questions about how hostels will be treated under universal credit. Currently we are considering how we will support housing costs for people in hostels under universal credit. Our consultation is helping to inform that, and we will involve stakeholders in the process before we issue regulations.

The right hon. Lady asked some important questions about people who are subject to the shared accommodation rate. I reassure her that the situation applies to a distinct group of individuals: those who are under 35, on their own, with no children, and moving into private sector accommodation. She is probably already aware that many exemptions are in place for vulnerable groups, for instance those who receive the severe disability premium.

We have also introduced several further exemptions from this January, for example for ex-residents of homeless hostels who have received help to resettle in the community. I reassure the right hon. Lady that if there are still individuals who, local authorities feel, require their own space, discretionary housing payments are also available, and they have been increased by some £130 million. That will allow local flexibility and discretion, which can make all the difference in such cases.