I wholeheartedly agree with you about the importance of providing safe temporary accommodation to those sleeping rough. Local authorities have a duty to provide interim accommodation to anyone who they believe may be homeless, eligible for assistance or in priority need. Any accommodation provided must be suitable. Guidance provided by the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities is clear that this means it must be suitable for all members of a household and all aspects of the accommodation should be assessed in line with the relevant needs of that household.
The Homelessness Reduction Act places duties on local housing authorities to take reasonable steps to try to prevent and relieve a person’s homelessness. Local authorities are being given more control and flexibility in supporting those who are at risk through the Homelessness Prevention Grant. Local authorities can use the funding flexibly to help prevent evictions, provide temporary accommodation to those who need it and to offer financial support for people to find a new home. £316 million is available for the grant in 2022-23, with an additional £50 million top up announced in early December 2022 to support local authorities in preventing vulnerable households from becoming homeless over the winter. A further £654 million is being invested in the Homelessness Prevention Grant in 2023-24 and 2024-25.
I believe it is important that there is tailored support available to help people in temporary accommodation move forward, and I firmly support the Government’s focus on helping people to find longer-term accommodation. The latest annual rough sleeping snapshot shows that the number of people in emergency accommodation has nearly halved, with more people securing long-term homes. More widely, I know that the Government is working to reduce the need for temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness before it occurs. Over £2 billion is being committed over the next three years to tackle homelessness and rough sleeping in England. I share the desire of my ministerial colleagues to tackle all forms of homelessness once and for all.
Local Housing Allowance
Valuation Office Agency Rent Officers determine Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates used to calculate Housing Benefit and the Housing element of Universal Credit (UC) for tenants renting from private landlords.
LHA rates are based on private market rents paid by tenants in the broad rental market area. This is the area within which a person might reasonably be expected to live. In April 2020, the LHA rate was increased to the 30th percentile of local market rents for recipients of UC and Housing Benefit. This represented an investment of around £1 billion and provided 1.5 million households with £600 more housing support per year than they would have otherwise received. This increase has been maintained in cash terms for 2021/22 and 2022/23.
However, if claimants need extra support to meet rental costs they can approach their Local Authority for a Discretionary Housing Payment (DHP). Since 2011, over £1 billion has been provided to local authorities to support households with their housing costs. In addition, a further £140 million for DHP was allocated for 2021/22 in England and Wales.
Renters' Reform Bill
Many tenants live with the worry of being evicted at short notice or continue to live in poor accommodation for fear they will be asked to leave if they complain about problems with their home. This is a problem that must be tackled. I have been assured that the Government is standing by its manifesto commitment to abolish 'no fault' Section 21 evictions. Section 21 evictions are one of the largest causes of family homelessness. I believe that reforming the current tenancy system will provide more security to private renters and give them the confidence to properly settle down in their homes.
Under plans set out in the 'A Fairer Private Rented Sector' White Paper, all tenants would be moved onto a single system of periodic tenancies. This will give tenants greater security while retaining the flexibility that attracts many to the private rented sector. A tenancy would only come to an end if the tenant chooses to leave or if the landlord has a valid ground for possession. Tenants would need to give two months’ notice when leaving a tenancy which would ensure that landlords can avoid lengthy void periods. It is important that providing tenants with this greater security is balanced with an assurance that landlords are able to recover their properties where they have valid reason to do so. This is vital to ensuring the future supply of good-quality housing in the private rented sector. The Government will reform grounds of possession so that the system is comprehensive, fair and effective. In addition, improvements will be made to court processes to ensure that disputes are resolved quickly and smoothly.
I appreciate the importance of allowing time for a smooth transition to this new system and I am assured that tenants, landlords and agents will be supported as they adjust. The Government will set out its next steps following on from the White Paper in due course. I appreciate the strength of feeling on this matter and I would like to assure you that there is a strong commitment across government to reform the private rented sector for landlords and tenants alike.
Development in South Cambridgeshire
I am utterly opposed to the proposed level of development in South Cambridgeshire including, but not limited to, the Thakeham developments. It is patently ridiculous that developers in concert with the council seek to irreversibly transform South Cambridgeshire against the wishes of residents.
The plans would be disastrous for our rural way of like and our environment. We already live in one of the most nature depleted parts of the country. Our water resources are stretched to the limit (as the council freely admits). We have serious issues with surface run-off that contributes to flooding already. I will continue to push local government and developers to provide the clarity that constituents need.
I recognise frustration that the publication of the White Paper has been delayed; a decision which I understand was taken in order to allow for further consultation with the sector. It is also the case that more time is required so that the findings of the National Audit Office’s review of regulation of the private rented sector can be taken into account. This will be crucial in ensuring that the White Paper delivers the balanced package of reforms that renters want to see.
The Government is dedicated to reforming the rental sector for tenants and landlords alike. A Renters Reform Bill will be brought forward to deliver a better deal for renters. I fully support ministers in this endeavour, and I look forward to reading further details about the reform package in an upcoming White Paper.
Central to these reforms will be the abolition of Section 21 ‘no fault’ evictions, which the Government consulted upon in 2019. This will improve security for tenants and protect them from having to move at short notice, as well as strengthening repossession ground for landlords when they have valid cause. Proposals will also be set out for a new ‘lifetime’ tenancy deposit model that eases the burden on tenants when moving from one tenancy to the next, helping to improve the experience of those living in the private rental sector.
Standards in rented accommodation will be driven up, including by ensuring all tenants have a right to redress and warranting well-targeted, effective enforcement that drives out criminal landlords. As part of this, the White Paper will consult on introducing a legally binding Decent Homes Standard in the private rented sector for the first time.
The Government will explore the merits of a national landlord register. Improvements and possible efficiencies to the possession process in the courts will also be considered to make it quicker and easier for landlords and tenants to use.
A new property portal will be established which will help landlords understand their obligations, support local authorities to crack down on poor practice and give tenants performance information to hold their landlord to account.
The response I am looking for is not here
We do endeavour to publish responses to campaign emails and national policy queries in good time, but sometimes a change in circumstance may cause a short delay. We also review our policy responses at the end of each month, so please do check back then for a further update.