HC Deb 27 April 1998 vol 311 cc4-5
3. Mr. Richard Burden (Birmingham, Northfield)

What assessment she makes of housing costs in setting levels of income support. [38479]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Social Security (Mr. Keith Bradley)

Help with housing costs for people receiving income support is given through specific allowances within income support, mainly for mortgage interest, and through housing benefit and council tax benefit. Those are assessed according to the circumstances of the individual concerned. Housing costs are not met through personal allowances and premiums within income support, and are thus not taken into account in setting the levels of those payments.

Mr. Burden

I thank my hon. Friend for that reply. I have been corresponding with him over the past few months concerning the non-dependant deduction rule whereby, if tenants in receipt of housing benefit have someone come to stay with them who does not qualify for housing benefit but is in receipt of income support, they could stand to have their housing benefit reduced by up to £7 a week. That is an anomaly; it implies that the personal element of income support contains an element for rent, which it does not. That can increase poverty among many of the families affected. Will my hon. Friend re-examine the interrelationship between housing benefit regulations and income support regulations, with regard to that particular rule?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful to my hon. Friend for again raising that matter with me. As he rightly says, he has been in lengthy correspondence with the Department on the matter, and I assure him yet again today that the interrelationship between income support and housing benefit will be reviewed in the light of our general review of housing benefit and housing policy. I assure him that the matter that he has brought to my attention will be included in that review.

Mr. Archy Kirkwood (Roxburgh and Berwickshire)

In the spirit of constructive opposition, and on behalf—I guess—of the whole House, I acknowledge the Government's positive work on welfare to work generally. After the introduction of the working families tax credit, housing benefit, as currently constructed, will be the biggest obstacle to getting people off benefit and into work. The Minister said that there is a benefits review. When will the housing benefit review be completed? Will he give a guarantee that housing benefit will be reformed before the working families tax credit is introduced?

Mr. Bradley

I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman's constructive contribution. He is absolutely right to say that housing costs represent a significant barrier to a successful return to work under the welfare-to-work programme. I assure him that further work is continuing as fast as possible to ensure that we investigate clearly the implications of that barrier and the way in which housing benefit is structured. As soon as we have completed that analysis, we shall feed it through the housing review so that it is harmonised with other reform programmes, especially welfare to work, to ensure that any impediment to people moving successfully from welfare into the workplace is removed.

Mr. Dale Campbell-Savours (Workington)

Are controls or further restrictions on rents in the private and voluntary sectors being considered as part of the housing and social security reviews? If they are not, tenants will be further punished at the end of the exercise.

Mr. Bradley

The review that we are undertaking is, as my hon. Friend is well aware, a joint review with the Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions. I assure him that all aspects of housing benefit, and crucially the interrelationship between housing benefit and housing policy, will be considered. That obviously includes the level of rents. I assure him that his point will be brought to the attention of the review.