Landlords: Housing benefit freeze a “travesty”

The freeze on housing benefit rates is a “travesty” that needs reversing, the National Residential Landlords Association (NRLA) warned.

The remarks were made by the NRLA policy director Chris Norris at a Labour Party conference fringe event, held in partnership with think tank DEMOS.

When questioned about the impact of the freeze, Chris Norris concluded that it was “completely unworkable”. He argued that it represents a “brake on social mobility, a brake on access [to rented housing] and a brake on investment” in new homes to rent.

Housing benefit rates have been frozen for the third year in a row, meaning benefit support is linked to rents as they were three years ago, not as they are today. According to the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), just 5% of rental properties advertised on Zoopla are now affordable for those in receipt of housing benefit as a result of the freeze.

The NRLA is calling on the government to unfreeze housing benefit rates as a matter of urgency, to prevent ever growing numbers of benefit claimants from struggling to access the housing they need.

At the event, Leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council, Cllr Stephen Cowan, who is leading an independent review of the private rented sector for the Labour Party, spoke of the “vital role” the rented sector had to play. However, he also argued that the challenges the sector faces could only be addressed by boosting the supply of housing across the board.

Echoing the sentiment, Chris Norris warned that tenants were being let down by a failure of government policy to encourage greater investment in private rented homes. He argued that the failure had left tenants with no choice over where they live. This, he argued, made them unable to vote with their feet when confronted with the minority of landlords providing sub-standard housing.

Norris said: “We welcome the recognition from all the panellists of the importance of the private rented sector.

“If they win power, Labour will need to tackle fundamental challenges in the rental market. It will need to tackle the chronic lack of private rented homes which is making it harder and harder for renters to find anywhere to live. The unjust housing benefit freeze will need to be scrapped. And a future Labour Government will need to do more to root out those landlords providing unsafe housing and bringing the sector into disrepute.

“None of this will be easy, but we stand ready to work constructively with the party to secure a rental market that works for tenants and responsible landlords.”