The government’s housing policy is threatening to collapse into shambles – says the Residential Landlords Association.

And top of the rubble is the chancellor’s announcement of a cap on benefits – “which, coupled with other measures, is going to have serious consequences for housing provision in the UK,” says RLA director Chris Town.

“A benefit cap is totally out of touch with the obvious reality of a UK housing market that, like many other living costs, varies according to where you live and local property prices.”

Market rents in Grimsby, where the average property price is about £91,000, are around £97 per week.

In Durham (average property value £9,500) it’s £103 per week for the same kind of accommodation.

In Brighton (average property value £225,000) – it’s £253 per week.

And in London (average property value £345,000) – it’s £445 per week.

“Housing support costs paid to tenants in the private rented sector must reflect rental costs in specific local areas,” says Chris Town.

“There is a public perception that those receiving benefit payments are paid huge amounts because they are living in large luxurious properties. There may be a few cases like that but, in reality, we are talking about people living in ordinary family semi-detached houses.

“They are going to be penalised because they live in expensive areas where they may have been born and brought up. Their relatives may be close by and their children will attend local schools. They have every reason for wanting to live there.

“But a benefit cap could force many of the affected 50,000 families to move – which is hardly going to help them find work. Those in London and the South East are going to be the worst affected. The economy there is much better placed to create the new jobs that benefit claimants need – so why force them to move away?

“Longer term unemployment is still rising and will get worse as public sector cutbacks kick in. So why is it such a good idea to force them into areas where it’s going to be harder to find jobs?

“Just how many more housing benefit cutbacks are going to be announced by our coalition government? Private rented sector landlords and tenants are in the firing line but does the government think that landlords are so unpopular with the electorate that it doesn’t matter?

“It’s time to take a more measured approach all round. Not just in the private rented sector but with the number of other housing-related measures that have been announced recently.

“Owner/occupiers who become unemployed face 40% cut backs in the help available to pay their mortgages.

“The Financial Services Authority is proposing to make it harder to obtain a mortgage. And the Council of Mortgage Lenders has estimated that, over the last four years, four million fewer mortgage approvals would have been given if their proposals were already in force.

“Fewer and fewer new houses are being provided in the social sector where the waiting list has grown to two million.

“Fewer people can afford to buy their own homes so more are renting privately – as a result or through choice.

“And measures that will exclude benefit claimants from 70% of the private rented sector will take effect next year. Landlords are increasingly turning away local housing allowance recipients and, in an RLA survey, 50 per cent said they would not renew such tenancies. Neither are landlords willing to drop their rent.

“The purpose of housing benefit is not to subsidise rents but to allow those who need assistance to obtain decent accommodation. Society accepts that need because a roof over their heads is one of the basic necessities of life.

“The Residential Landlords Association believes that government measures are going to have an adverse long term impact that will eventually cancel out any short term savings. Homelessness will increase. The stress on families will cost the National Health Service dearly. And educational achievement will be adversely affected.

“The RLA fully supports the idea of getting people back into work but, as many jobs are low paid, they need help with the housing costs, especially in high value areas. The RLA wants the government to look at alternative ways of getting them into work – not crude across-the-board cuts that ignore the major differences in rental costs across the country.

“The government is also overlooking the grave shortage of social housing and the fact that the private rented sector is expected to provide homes for those who cannot access social housing.

“I am afraid this seems to be an example of picking on an apparently unpopular target, and cutting back vital housing support for tenants, without thinking through the longer term consequences.

“We already have a shortage of housing that forces up prices and rents in this country. This is hardly the fault of the poorest in society. And landlords who have invested considerable amounts of money to buy properties for rent cannot be expected to subsidise their tenants”.

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