Minister seeks clarity on impact of housing benefit cuts on supported accommodation tenants
Social justice secretary Alex Neil has called for “urgent clarification” from the UK government around the proposal to restrict housing benefit for tenants in supported and women’s aid refuge accommodation.
According to Mr Neil, plans to cut housing benefit, outlined in the UK government’s spending review, could result in the closure of supported and refuge accommodation across the country.
The proposals would set the housing element of benefit claims to Local Housing Allowance (LHA) levels, far lower than what is needed to cover rent and service charges in refuges.
Mr Neil said UK government suggestions that the shortfall could be met through discretionary housing payments were insufficient because it did not give supported and women’s aid refuge providers certainty of income meaning they could not plan for the future.
The warning follows research by Scottish Women’s Aid which showed that refuge rent and service charge costs are significantly higher than the LHA rate, and would leave refuges struggling to meet the funding shortfall.
Mr Neil has written to Lord Freud, UK Minister for State for Welfare Reform, to raise his concerns over the proposals.
He said: “This proposal is essentially a cap to the amount of housing benefit housing social and council tenants will receive, and, what’s still not clear is how far this cap will go when it comes to the most vulnerable living in refuge accommodation.
“This includes women and children fleeing domestic violence, disabled people and those affected by homelessness. We know rent and service charges in supported accommodation is significantly higher than the LHA rate. Without the existing levels of housing benefit to cover these costs, refuges will be forced to close.
“This move will have a catastrophic impact on those people who depend on such support for survival. The UK government has said it will act, but we have yet to see any evidence or detail of these actions. A suggestion is that the shortfall will be made up of discretionary housing payments – it would be down to individuals to apply for these, and would not offer any security for supported housing projects.
“Until this detail is provided, the organisations that provide supported accommodation are being left in an unacceptable state of uncertainty.”