Government shown first hand evidence of tenants' housing plight

July 16, 2009 9:48 AM
David Howarth

David Howarth MP

Cambridge MP David Howarth has presented first hand evidence to the government of how its changes to housing benefit are leaving some tenants unable to afford to stay in their homes.

Mr Howarth and officers from Cambridge City Council met Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Helen Goodman, today (Wednesday) to discuss the changes which have hit around 800 tenants renting homes from private landlords and claiming benefit.

During the meeting, Mr Howarth presented a statement from tenant, Helen Elsom, who was too unwell to attend in person but wanted Ms Goodman to know how the government's actions could destroy her chances of returning to work.

She said: "I am shocked by the implications of the rules for the Local Housing Allowance, as they not only appear seriously unfair but also affect me personally.

"The reduced allowance makes it impossible for me to live in Cambridge, which in effect means giving up much hope of being able to find work again as I recover from my illness.

"Having to commute (by public transport, as I do not drive and can't cycle far at the moment) would leave me very little energy to do a job once I got into the city, and the opportunities for voluntary work or seeing friends would be much more limited."

Problems began for Miss Elsom and other Cambridge tenants when the government replaced Housing Benefit with the Local Housing Allowance in April last year.

Average rents for Cambridge were calculated alongside those in cheaper areas such as Ely and Littleport and tenants found their benefits reduced.

A review, carried out recently by the Rent Valuation Office, which calculated average rents for the government, said it was powerless to make changes because it would mean a change in the law.

Mr Howarth, who was joined by council officers, John Frost, Head of Revenue Services and Alison Cole, explained the tenants' plight to Ms Goodman and urged her to review the housing benefits' system as a matter of urgency.

He said after the meeting: "There was a full and frank exchange of views and Ms Goodman has promised to go away and investigate the points raised.

"This is such an important issue which has far reaching implications for all concerned and I will continue to press the government at every opportunity."

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