To Therese Coffey MP
Secretary of State, Dept for Work & Pensions
CC Will Quince MP
Dear Secretary of State,
Following my Westminster Hall debate on 4th February, I was pleased that the Chancellor used this year’s Budget to announce the Government will extend exemptions from the shared accommodation rate (SAR) of Local Housing Allowance (LHA) to include homeless people aged 16 to 24 and care leavers up to the age of 25.
However, the purpose of this letter is to raise my concern about the three and a half year wait before this change is implemented. Delaying this policy until October 2023 – with the date hidden away in the Budget documents – ignores just how desperately change is needed right now.
These welcome exemptions will help some of the most vulnerable young people in our country, and the ongoing Covid-19 crisis has further highlighted the need for increased support. The youth homeless charity Centrepoint has seen a 50% increase in calls to their youth homelessness helpline during the pandemic. Covid-19 has exacerbated youth homelessness by putting extreme pressure on families, local authority housing services and charities. Some of the problems affecting homeless young people specifically include increased family and relationship breakdown due to isolation restrictions, the inability to sofa surf due to social distancing measures, and the loss of employment resulting in young people being unable to retain their accommodation. Young people need the benefit system to work for them now more than ever: they need a safe place to call home during this time of national crisis.
It is welcome that the Government has acknowledged the lack of affordable housing available for those who rely on LHA and raised rates to the 30th percentile of market rents and I urge you to maintain this policy, at the very least, beyond 2020/21. But this important change does not alter the reality that there is not enough shared accommodation available for young people on the shared accommodation rate; and nor is it a solution for young care or hostel leavers who are being asked to wait three and a half years for exemptions on the SAR. The Government still needs to ensure alternative housing options are available for homeless young people and care leavers.
Centrepoint estimates that 110,000 young people in the UK were homeless, or at risk of homelessness in 2018/19. In my own constituency, the situation is desperate. According to new findings from Centrepoint’s annual Youth Homelessness Databank report, 494 young people approached Brighton and Hove Council for support because they were homeless or at risk of homelessness in 2018/2019. These figures are shocking and further highlight the need to bring these exemptions into effect immediately.
I am aware that Discretionary Housing Payments (DHP) can be applied for and sometimes granted to assist with LHA shortfalls. However, I know from the experience of many of my constituents that the process of applying for and receiving DHPs is incredibly variable. The payments are too disparate, they are often time limited, and many people are unable to receive a second payment, let alone continued support to help meet housing costs. The DHP process represents an additional layer of complication and administration for young people who may already be struggling to cope. The Government must act fast and introduce these exemptions before 2023, as the most effective way of ensuring safe and secure housing is available to these vulnerable young people.
In Brighton Pavilion, charities like the Clock Tower Sanctuary Project see the reality for young homeless people and care leavers every day. They have consistently argued that whilst the causes of youth homelessness are complex, expanding the SAR exemptions to cover homeless young people and care leavers will be a game-changer.
I urge you to hold the necessary discussions with the Chancellor to bring forward the promised Shared Accommodation Rate exemptions for implementation now.
I should be grateful for your response to this letter.
Best wishes, Caroline