Amid ‘homelessness emergency’, London makes cross-party call to Chancellor on Local Housing Allowance

Amid ‘homelessness emergency’, London makes cross-party call to Chancellor on Local Housing Allowance

With a week to go until the Autumn Statement, a cross-party body representing London local government has written to the Chancellor highlighting homelessness in the capital as an “emergency situation” and calling for an end to the freeze on Local Housing Allowance (LHA).

Lead councillors for housing from London Councils’ Labour, Conservative, and Liberal Democrat groups have sent a joint letter arguing that raising LHA — a form of housing benefit that goes to lower-income households living in privately rented accommodation [1] — is the “single fastest way to reverse the deeply concerning rise in homelessness in London and across the country”.

London is the epicentre of the national homelessness crisis. Around 170,000 Londoners — equivalent to one in 50 residents — are homeless and living in temporary accommodation arranged by their local borough.

London Councils recently published independent research showing that a further 60,000 private renters in London are set to become homeless in the coming years unless the Government increases LHA rates.

The research found that restoring LHA to cover at least 30% of local market rents would help these private renters avoid homelessness. This would save the public finances in the capital more than £100m each year — mostly from reduced pressure on boroughs’ homelessness services.

One in seven private renters in London relies on LHA to cover their housing costs. However, separate analysis earlier this year by Savills and LSE London, commissioned by London Councils and partners, found that in 2022 only 2.3% of new private rented sector lettings were affordable under LHA.

Homelessness pressures are a key factor in boroughs’ overall budget instability. London Councils warns that nine in 10 boroughs expect to overspend on their budgets this year — estimated at over £400m in total across the capital – and that there is a growing risk of financial and service failures.

An uplift to LHA is one of London Councils’ top priorities for the Autumn Statement. Additional policy asks for tackling homelessness include:

Provide an emergency boost to Homelessness Prevention Grant funding. Local authorities play a vital role in supporting struggling households to avoid homelessness and expect to overspend on their temporary accommodation budgets by £90m this year. Councils require an emergency funding increase to ensure local services have the resources needed in the face of rising levels of demand for support.

Support councils to buy accommodation sold by private landlords. The Government should build on initiatives such as the Local Authority Housing Fund by providing increased capital investment for housing acquisitions, particularly to acquire homes being sold by private landlords as they exit the market.

Increase Discretionary Housing Payments. These payments are used by councils to help residents in financial crisis meet their housing costs, they are an essential homelessness prevention tool, but government funding for Discretionary Housing Payments in 2023-24 has been frozen at 2022-23 levels, despite significantly increasing homelessness pressures.

Bring forward a cross-departmental strategy to reduce homelessness. Tackling homelessness must become a major priority at a national level with government departments working together — in addition to key partners such as local authorities — as effectively as possible.

Header image: ©aspenphoto/AdobeStock

You can view the letter here: London Councils letter to the Chancellor re Local Housing Allowance (November 2023) (for publication)

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