Latest from parliament Feb 2012

Written answers from Hansard on Housing benefit (February 2012)

Under-occupancy and pension age

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions whether one or both of a couple in receipt of housing benefit have to have reached the pension credit qualifying age in order to be exempt from the new under-occupancy rules to be introduced in 2013. [96841]

Steve Webb:The under occupation measure in the social rented sector applies to those of working age. For couples currently claiming housing benefit, both the claimant and their partner need to be under the qualifying age for pension credit to be treated as working age. When universal credit is introduced, if either member in a couple is under the qualifying age for pension credit then the couple would be treated as working age. They would then be expected to access universal credit rather than pension credit.

It is intended that those already in receipt of pension credit at April 2013 will be protected, and continue to receive pension credit as long as they continue to meet the other qualifying conditions.

The Benefits cap and temp accommodation

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the cost of exempting all households in temporary accommodation from the benefit cap. [95144]

Chris Grayling:The Department has no plan to exempt households from the household benefit cap on grounds of being housed in temporary accommodation.

The Benefits cap and the “grace period”

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what estimate he has made of the number of households whose income would be affected by the household benefit cap (a) before and (b) after he announced a grace period. [94576]

Chris Grayling:The impact assessment published on the 23 January stated that 67,000 households would be affected by the household benefit cap in 2013-14.

Following the concessions won in the House of Commons on 1 February, we estimate that the grace period of 39 weeks for claimants who have been in employment for 52 weeks or more before leaving work will reduce the number of households affected to around 57,000.

Landlords and direct payment to claimants

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what assessment he has made of the effect on landlords of the system of payment of housing benefit to tenants rather than to landlords. [94871]

Steve Webb:Local housing allowance (LHA), a new way of working out housing benefit for people renting from a private landlord, was introduced in April 2008. An aim of LHA was to improve financial inclusion and help tenants develop the skills needed for work by, wherever possible, paying benefit to claimants.

Safeguards exist within the housing benefit regulations where a landlord must be paid directly if the tenant is in eight weeks or more rent arrears. Private sector landlords can also be paid directly if the council considers the tenant will either have difficulty managing his or her finances, or it is improbable the tenant will pay his or her rent. In April 2011, we introduced a temporary additional measure where the council can pay a private sector landlord directly if it will help the tenant secure a new tenancy or remain in their current home at a reduced rent.

Following its introduction, the Government carried out a two-year review of the LHA arrangements to assess its impact on tenants, landlords and other external organisations, which was published in February 2011. Although the review identified some concerns, there was no evidence of landlords moving out of the housing benefit market on a wider scale because of tenants being paid direct. The private rented sector housing benefit case load actually grew over the review period.

The Department has commissioned an independent consortium of leading research organisations to evaluate the effects of recent LHA changes. The evaluation team is led by Ian Cole of Sheffield Hallam university and includes Peter Kemp (Oxford university) and members from the Institute for Fiscal Studies and Ipsos MORI. Early findings from the initial survey will be available in late spring 2012.

Staff transfer

To ask the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions what plans he has for the transfer of housing benefit staff from local authorities to his Department as part of implementation of universal credit. [94488]

Chris Grayling:Work is under way to design and deliver the IT and processes that will underpin universal credit, and part of the work includes looking at the design and structure of the organisation to deliver universal credit. It is too early at this stage of the programme to detail the exact resource requirements for universal credit.