Leeds housing benefit struggle

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Thousands of struggling households in private rented homes across Leeds face housing benefit cuts from January under government welfare reforms.

Some large families needing five-bedroom accommodation could lose as much as £161 a week and Coun Bernard Atha (Lab, Kirkstall) has described it as a “blitzkreig” on the poorest families in society.

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Housing benefit changes were introduced in April this year but transitional protection arrangements meant most claimants were not immediately affected.

But the protection comes to an end in January and over 12 months about 9,500 private-rented sector households, according to figures in a council report, will have their benefit reduced as the cap on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are lowered.

The rate on a one-bed property – currently £109 a week – will be £99 and there are nearly 5,000 households with one bedroom facing a cut. Just over 3,000 tenants in a two-bed home are in line for a reduction along with 1,035 in three-bed properties and 295 with four bedrooms.

There are 60 families previously entitled to a five-bed LHA rate who will be capped at the four-bed level, resulting in weekly reductions of between £9.87 and £161.92.

Single people will also be affected. The shared accommodation rate – £60 a week in Leeds – which applied to people aged up to 25 will now apply to those aged up to 35. Over 1,300 people aged 25-35 currently living in self-contained accommodation will be subject to the shared accommodation rate and have an average weekly shortfall in their rent of £43.

Efforts are being made to persuade landlords to accept lower rents. Landlords who reduce rents to a more affordable levels will have housing benefit paid directly to them.

Tenants affected by the changes have received letters explaining their impact. Help through Discretionary Housing Payments will be available to those facing the most difficulties.

Coun Kamila Maqsood (Lab, Gipton and Harehills) told the council: “Housing benefit changes will have a huge impact on families.”

She said those unable to afford their rent would have to move to smaller and often inadequate accommodation. She feared children’s education could be disrupted.

Coun Alan Lamb (Con, Wetherby) said: “The welfare system needs to be changed.”