HC Deb 19 April 1995 vol 258 cc209-10
21. Dr. Lynne Jones

To ask the Secretary of State for the Environment what assessment he has made of the ability of those on low incomes to afford the rent of new housing association dwellings. [17926]

Mr. Robert B. Jones

The most recent analysis of affordability carried out by the Housing Corporation for the year 1992–93 demonstrates that, on average, tenants spent approximately 10 per cent. of their net income on rent for a newly completed housing association dwelling. Tenants who are in work spent approximately 18 per cent. of their net income on rent.

Dr. Lynne Jones

Does the Minister accept that the reduction of housing association grant to levels that even the Association of Mortgage Lenders describes as unrealistic means that many new housing association dwellings are now being let or put on offer at over £70 a week, which means that they are unaffordable for people who are not eligible for housing benefit? Is not the shift of subsidy from bricks and mortar to means-tested benefit leading to more dependency? Is that not proving more costly to the public purse in the long run?

Mr. Robert B. Jones

Of course there is a relationship between the subsidy to bricks and mortar, which on average is just under 60 per cent., and the subsidy to individuals through housing benefit. Naturally enough, where the two meet there is likely to be a problem in terms of a poverty trap. That is something that we keep under constant review. There has been no shortage of projects coming forward under the present rates. I should point out to the hon. Lady that all but 2 per cent. of the fall in housing association grant rates has been accounted for by falls in procurement costs.

Mr. Nicholas Winterton

Will my hon. Friend accept that there is a problem? I sit on the board of the Templar Housing Society Ltd., which is implementing—it says that it is forced to do so—an increase in rents of about £34 to £35 a month. Representations have been made to me by people on the state retirement pension, who have had only a small pension increase. They say that the increase in their housing costs are likely to exceed any increase in the old-age pension. Will not my hon. Friend consider these matters a little more carefully, perhaps understand that there is a problem and say that he will consider it? Perhaps I can write to him about the housing society of which I am a member.

Mr. Jones

My hon. Friend is welcome to write to me at any time about any subject that falls within my responsibilities. It sounds to me, from the instance that he gave, as if he is talking about pensioners with private pensions in addition to their state pension. We keep those matters under review, and, as I said during the last Environment Question Time, we are in contact with other interested Departments, including the Department of Social Security, about the interplay between housing benefits and HAG rates.