Austerity has priced Scots out of rental homes, investigation finds

A new investigation has highlighted the dearth of accommodation that families on benefits can afford in Scotland’s largest cities and in rural areas.

Austerity has priced Scots out of rental homes, investigation finds

UK-wide research published today by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, shared with The Ferret, found that just 12 out of 662 rental properties advertised in Lothian met the affordability criteria for families on benefits.

In the Highlands, which has a population of over 235,000, just two affordable two-bedroom properties were identified for rent.

The study was based on details collected of 62,695 two-bedroom rental properties available for rent on a single day across Scotland, England and Wales that were affordable based on the value of the local housing allowance (LHA). This rate was frozen as part of the UK government’s austerity policy in 2016.

Across Scotland, the snapshot study suggested 19.5% of the market was available for families on benefits, considerably higher than the 6% UK-wide average but still well under the 30% target.

Lothian was the least affordable area in Scotland with less than two per cent within the affordable range. In Glasgow, less than six per cent of the market was affordable with just 31 out of 525 properties meeting the range made possible by the LHA of £120.03 per week.

In West Lothian, where the LHA is set at £121.22, just four properties out of 71 advertised were affordable.

Just two of Scotland’s rental areas met or exceeded the aim to ensure 30% of the market was affordable. In Aberdeen city and shire 33% of properties were affordable based on the LHA of £133 and in Ayrshire, where the LHA is £97.81, 40% of the market should be affordable to families on benefits.

Jon Sparkes, chief executive of Crisis – who also chaired the Scottish Government’s homeless and rough sleeping action group last year – told The Ferret: “We should all have a safe and secure home. This investigation paints a clear picture that for the overwhelming majority, we’re not meeting this basic human need. This is simply unacceptable – we can and must do better.

“Housing benefit is a tool to prevent people from being forced into homelessness in the first place. But rates are currently failing to cover the cost of even the cheapest private rents in the majority of areas, pushing people to rent more expensive properties and making up the difference – skipping meals or not putting the heating on to try and ease this financial pressure and keep the roof over their head.”

Housing minister Kevin Stewart told The Ferret: “Evidence shows the UK government’s under investment in the Local Housing Allowance means it is not serving its intended purpose and we have repeatedly called on the Department for Work and Pensions to change LHA rates.

“We are continuing to push the UK government to reverse its damaging welfare changes, which put people at risk of homelessness.”

Stewart added: “We are doing all we can to mitigate against the worst impact of UK government welfare cuts in Scotland and last year we invested over £1.4 billion to support low income households. We are also delivering on our sustained and long-term commitment to increase the supply of affordable homes, with more than 87,000 delivered since 2007, with nearly 60,000 of these for social rent.”

A UK government spokesperson told The Ferret: “Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority. The government increased more than 360 Local Housing Allowance rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households.

“We’re investing over £9 billion in affordable housing and an additional £2 billion after 2022. And we have abolished the Housing Revenue Account borrowing cap – giving councils across the country the tools they need to deliver a new generation of affordable housing.”

See the report in full here.

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