HC Deb 17 April 1989 vol 151 cc7-8
10. Mr. Martyn Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for Social Security what consultations he has had recently with local authorities on housing benefit.

Mr. Peter Lloyd

The Department has regular meetings with the local authority associations throughout the year to discuss housing benefit, and we consult them formally on proposals for regulations.

Mr. Jones

The Department of the Environment is forcing councils in my area to put up rents. When will housing benefit be raised in line with those increases?

Mr. Lloyd

All those who pay rents at or below the market level will receive the full housing benefit appropriate to them. There is no problem about that. More people on lower incomes will have a wider choice of accommodation than they had before.

Mr. Thurnham

Does my hon. Friend accept that it is important that local authorities and local DSS offices should work closely together and co-ordinate their efforts to reduce delay and uncertainty for individual claimants?

Mr. Lloyd

Housing benefit is paid by the local authority, not by the local DSS, but I agree that there should always be close co-operation between local authorities and DSS offices.

Mr. Tony Lloyd

Will the Minister take steps to consult one of my local authorities—the borough of Trafford— about my constituent, Mr. Riley? When Mr. Riley's wife died, the joint pension that he and his wife had received was cut to a single pension. As his housing benefit was also cut, he ended up paying more rent out of a smaller income.

Mr. Lloyd

Again, I do not wish to talk about particular cases, but the personal allowance will be adjusted to meet the person's new and sad circumstances as a single person, which will have an effect on his entitlement to housing benefit. The rule is that people in similar situations should be treated similarly. A married person who, alas, becomes a single person through bereavement will find that the regulations which apply to him are the same as those which apply to unmarried people.

Mrs. Gorman

Does my hon. Friend agree with me that the root cause of the problem—and of the previous question about young people who cannot find housng on their own—is the fact that antiquated Rent Acts prevent many people from letting a room, a flat or part of their house because, rightly or wrongly, they fear that if they cannot get on with the tenants it will be impossible to get them out? Is my hon. Friend aware that Sweden faced exactly the same problems and has done away entirely with the legislation governing rent which has resulted in a flood of property on to the market and a surplus of accommodation?

Mr. Lloyd

I cannot follow my hon. Friend down that track because those are matters for the Department of the Envirionment, but to repeat what I said in reply to an earlier question: where market rents are charged in order to draw more property on to the market, full housing benefit will be available.

Mrs. Beckett

The Minister must be aware that his earlier answer to my hon. Friend the Member for Clwyd, South-West (Mr. Jones) was a little misleading. He must be aware that in the future, and even in some cases now, it is likely that the ceiling at which housing benefit is paid will not be the same as the rent demanded. If part of the mechanism for deciding the ceiling is to penalise elderly people who keep a spare room for their relatives, is the Minister aware that that will cause not just hardship but outrage?

Mr. Lloyd

When a person claims housing benefit, the rent officer will take into account the market rent for property of a size suitable for that individual, but the changes will result in a far wider choice of housing than there is now. For suitable property, housing benefit will be paid up to market levels.