Blog: Good riddance to the mad, bad LHA cap

David Bookbinder
David Bookbinder

The UK government’s U-turn on imposing the Local Housing Allowance (LHA) cap to supported housing and the wider social housing sector is to be welcomed but we are not out of the woods yet, says David Bookbinder.

This week’s announcement from the Prime Minister that the LHA cap on social housing has been scrapped is hugely welcome. It was a mad, bad policy, but not all poorly thought out policies get binned, so well done to housing bodies across the UK for playing their part in this.

Up until very recently, the main focus of lobbying was the impact of the proposed cap on supported housing, rather than how it would affect people under 35 in any social housing. I’m not convinced that politicians had yet got their heads round the latter, nor how sympathetic some would have been even if they’d understood it.

In fact, the UK government probably looked at the option of exempting supported housing from the cap but still penalising younger people: complications over defining exactly what was in and out of the supported housing definition were perhaps what led to the whole cap being scrapped.

Explaining the cap to tenants who were going to be hit by it in 2019 was already proving tricky, and I doubt the cap would ever have managed to get the wider political profile that the ‘bedroom tax’ had.

And yet the cap was even more irrational and punitive than the bedroom tax. What was a tenant in a one-bedroom flat meant to do when faced with losing £10-£20 or more of their benefit – rent out their living room to a complete stranger? The Scottish Secure Tenancy system doesn’t even cater for shared tenancies anyway.

Despite the good news we know so much is still wrong with the system of support with housing costs. LHA rates remain frozen until April 2021 at least – something that’s having an insidious effect on people in the private rented sector. A current Common Housing Register pilot in the north west of Glasgow has seen an incredible volume of applications for a relatively small number of lets, and much of the demand has come from younger people trapped by high rents in the PRS.

Supported housing isn’t out of the woods – it still needs stable, long term footing, and so next week’s announcement on a proposed funding regime is eagerly awaited.

And then there’s Universal Credit, which started out as a perfectly logical idea but has been cut to the bone and administered by numpties who think all claimants have a computer, fast broadband and a car to get the job centre if they need to.

Who knows now? Getting rid of Universal Credit altogether is problematic now that it has started, but the need for it to be suspended and then changed in some big ways has more political support now than even just a few months ago.

  • David Bookbinder is director at Glasgow and West of Scotland Forum of Housing Associations
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