HC Deb 07 June 2004 vol 422 cc16-7
12. Siobhain McDonagh (Mitcham and Morden) (Lab)

What progress has been made in piloting the standard local housing allowance in the private rented sector. [177322]

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions (Mr. Chris Pond)

We are making excellent progress on the local housing allowance pathfinders. All nine pathfinder local authorities have implemented the reforms smoothly and we have put in place a comprehensive and independent evaluation. Although these are early days, the indications are that the local housing allowance is working well.

Siobhain McDonagh

I thank my hon. Friend for that answer. With specific reference to London, what are the early findings? Although the pilot on the standard local housing allowance is welcome, I foresee problems in London where demand for accommodation of all sorts is huge.

Mr. Pond

In choosing the pathfinders, we wanted to ensure that we were able to cover high demand areas as well as low demand areas. That is why one of the nine pathfinders is based in London, and we shall look carefully at the implications of that for the working of the scheme. In Lewisham, 2,000 people are already in receipt of the local housing allowance, and it is working well at present. As I said, these are early days and we have announced that a further wave of local authorities will be included in a local housing allowance scheme to see operationally how it will work in practice. We have received a tremendous response from local authorities that would like to be involved and we shall announce which of them will be included in the near future. We hope that one of them, too, will be in London.

Miss Anne McIntosh (Vale of York) (Con)

Is this the best time to be transferring the new scheme to the private rented sector, bearing in mind the tremendous pressure that that sector of the housing market is coming under, particularly in north Yorkshire, and the lack of affordable homes in that area? What discussions has the Minister or his Department had with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister to try to alleviate the situation by getting more homes from the private rented sector on to the market and by providing more affordable homes?

Mr. Pond

The hon. Lady makes an important point, and I can tell her that we have had extensive discussions with the Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. We need to tackle the issue from both ends. We need to make sure that more affordable housing becomes available and, at the same time, that tenants have more choice and more ability to make decisions about how they spend their incomes. That means ensuring that they make the decisions about quality in terms of the housing available.

Vera Baird (Redcar) (Lab)

Can my hon. Friend tell the House how the local housing allowance pilots—which, on the face of it, should permit people to make choices about the type and quality of their accommodation—are working and whether, in particular, in poorer areas such as mine there is evidence that people are exercising their power of choice to trade up or to trade down?

Mr. Pond

Yes, I can say that, in the pathfinders, the overall effect—whether it be in the high demand or low demand areas—seems to be generally very positive. We are not seeing great problems in terms of the extension of choice to tenants. In areas such as that of my hon. and learned Friend, the available evidence seems to suggest that when people have the choices and the income to make those choices a reality, they tend to trade up in the quality of their accommodation. That would be our expectation.