Housing Benefit figures for December were released by the DWP today and yet again we see another rise in the HB bill and another rise in the number of claimants.
First a quick question. Why can the same DWP release the unemployment figures for February 2012 on the same today yet can only release HB figures for December 2011? Why is there a three-month time lag for HB yet only a month time lag for unemployed statistics?
I’ll leave that one with you as I turn to the latest HB figures (despite being 3 months out-of-date!)
- Claimant count up from 4,935,920 to 4.952,260 a rise of 16,340
- Of that 16,340, 76 per cent is from private sector claimants (12,360)
- This is consistent as since May 2010 200,730 new HB claimants of which 144,820 (72%) are from the private rented sector
- An increase of 12,650 working tenants claiming HB is recorded – so 77.5% of new claimants were working
- Overall HB bill now stands at £22.458bn up £56.1m from November figure of £22.402bn
I note today Grant Shapps is again claiming rents have come down. As usual the official statistical facts don’t support that view. Despite the average overall payment per person having reduced for three months in a row from £87.03 to £86.91 the last 12 months has seen a rise in HB payments of 2.8%.
This week has also seen a report in the Birmingham Post (in reality a placed story from the National Landlords Association (NLA) stating that 574 private sector rents have been reduced in Birmingham. Superficially impressive yet as tab 3 of the official statistics reveal Birmingham has 34,590 HB claimants in the private sector and so this means 1.66% of private rents in receipt of HB have fallen which means 98.34% have not fallen. So much for Shapps claims that private sector landlords are reducing rents because of the HB caps.
Shapps HB targets from June 2010 were to reduce the HB bill by £2bn from its May 2010 figure of £20.8bn – a target of £18.8bn by 2015. The current bill of £22.458 bn is therefore £4.7bn or 25% above target.
Table 9a sees updated details on the impact of the underoccupation tax on those that don’t underoccupy? Eh? Think about it the shared accommodation rate (SAR) which sees a single person 34 and under occupying a 1 bed flat is an underoccupation tax and at far higher rates than the £28 or so for a single person aged 35 occupying a three bed social property. It’s as high as a £126.50 per week reduction in Kensington and even more than the £28pw tax in Gateshead (£32pw), Liverpool (£35pw), Birmingham (£45pw), Bristol (£52pw) and Brighton (£73pw) to name but a few.
There are 265,800 single claimants aged between 25 and 34 all of whom in whatever tenure (the data doesn’t reveal this) will be subjected to the shared accommodation rate tax that came into effect January 2012. This will be an area to watch and some of the issues are here in today’s Guardian, although as I have commented underneath the figures used as to impact are a third of the real figures which suggest the impact will be three times what it claims.
I have received emails that SAR does not apply to social tenants only private ones. I disagree with that view though admit I am in the minority on that view. To explain my view read the impact assessment for the underoccupation changes produced by DWP then you will see:
“From 1 April 2013 it is intended to introduce size criteria for new and existing working-age Housing Benefit claimants living in the social rented sector. The size criteria will replicate the size criteria that apply to Housing Benefit claimants in the private rented sector and whose claims are assessed using the local housing allowance rules”
As such SAR is part of the underoccupation changes which will see 25 — 34 year olds be treated in terms of HB eligibility the same as those in the private rented sector. This means that a single person in a 1 bed council flat will be treated the same as a single person in a 1 bed private rented flat and cannot mean anything different to that view. Hence a social tenant aged 26 to 34 will subjected to the SAR by the backdoor. If my view is correct then SAR criteria for social tenants will come into effect next year in April 2013 to create parity with the SAR for private tenants which came into effect in January 2012. It may not be called SAR but its the same thing.