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Government blamed for tenants' plight must act now - Howarth

June 15, 2009 10:34 AM

HowarthHundreds of Cambridge tenants struggling to pay their rents must be helped by the government after the blame was laid squarely at its door, claims city MP David Howarth.

He is demanding urgent action after a review of boundaries used to set the level of rents in privately owned properties in the city found that the government had made change impossible.

Average rents in Cambridge are calculated along with cheaper areas such as Littleport, Newmarket and Haverhill. But the Valuation Office Agency claimed it could not change the boundaries because it was bound by legislation.

This means that tenants renting from private landlords and claiming benefit can no longer afford rents in the city, which are higher than the surrounding areas.

Their problems began when the government replaced Housing Benefit with a new Local Housing Allowance last year and told tenants they should be prepared to move to find cheaper accommodation.

Mr Howarth, who fought for the boundary review, said: "This is a totally unacceptable situation. Tenants are being priced out of their homes and the agency setting the levels of rent has its hands tied.

"The agency has heard valid arguments from Cambridge City Council and Shelter - the very people who know the city well - but the law says it cannot act.

"These tenants have struggled for a year with a situation which only the government can change. It has been blamed directly by the very people it commissioned to act on its behalf. Now it must move quickly to ease the plight of tenants who are facing financial hardship through no fault of their own."

Mr Howarth will put down Parliamentary Questions on the issue on June 29 for Yvette Cooper, Secretary of State for Work and Pensions.

In his boundary review judgement, Steve Paul, Review and Assurance Manager with the Valuation Office Agency said: "As rent officers are governed by the terms of legislation, I am simply not in a position to determine 'broad area' on the principle of including places which have comparable markets and excluding those that do not."