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COUNCILS READY TO PIONEER NEW HOUSING BENEFIT GIVING POWER TO TENANTS

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A pioneering plan to reform housing benefit, giving more power to ...
A pioneering plan to reform housing benefit, giving more power to

tenants and boosting their job prospects, came a step nearer today.

Start dates were announced for the first time for the nine councils

that will test the innovative new Local Housing Allowance, due to be

introduced nationally to replace existing payments.

Work and pensions secretary Andrew Smith laid regulations in

parliament for the biggest shake-up in housing benefit in its

history.

Blackpool BC will introduce the new Local Housing Allowance next

month followed by Lewisham LBC in December. Coventry and Teignbridge

councils will follow in January 2004 with Brighton and Hove,

Edinburgh, North East Lincolnshire, Conwy and Leeds councils all

starting in February.

Under the radical plan private tenants will receive a flat rate of

housing benefit, set locally, taking account of income and family

size, creating a simpler and fairer system.

Landlords and tenants will know in advance how much they will receive

and tenants, who will get the money directly, will be able to choose

to move to a cheaper property and keep the difference.

The reform will also remove one of the barriers to people getting

back to work by cutting claim times and removing uncertainty.

Mr Smith said: 'This is an exciting

opportunity for these local councils to help bring about a better and

fairer housing benefit system for everyone.

'For years people have been calling for reform. Now we are testing a

system which will put real choice and responsibility in the hands of

tenants.'

Housing benefit minister Chris Pond added:

'People who need help with their rent should be given that help with

the dignity and respect that goes with the responsibility to handle

their own finances and make their own choices. This is a fairer and

more effective way of giving help with housing costs.

'We will be watching the development of these pathfinders clos ely and

learning the lessons from different housing conditions in each area

before introducing the reform nationally.'

NOTES

1. A copy of the regulations will be available on the HM Stationery

Office website at www.hmso.gov.uk

2. The reform of housing benefit was announced in the prospectus

'Building Choice and Responsibility: a radical agenda for Housing

Benefit' in October 2002. The pathfinder councils volunteering to

take part were announced in March 2003.

3. Individual pathfinder councils have chosen between a phased or

big bang transfer of their existing caseload to the new Standard

Local Housing Allowance and their choice and the start date are

specified in the regulations laid today.

4. The pathfinders will last for at least two years and will be fully

evaluated by the Department for Work and Pensions.

5. Claimants in these areas will receive a standard allowance based

on the area in which they live and the number of occupiers. The

allowances will be calculated across broad rental market areas based

on the concept used by rent officers to set Local Reference Rents and

Single Room Rents.

6. The allowance will normally be paid directly to the tenant not the

landlord. But there will be safeguards to enable local authorities to

pay the landlord where necessary.

7. Middlesborough council withdrew as one of the ten pathfinders

testing the Local Housing Allowance in August because of commitments

to the Tees Valley Market Renewal Project, a scheme designed to help

restructure the regional housing market. The council stressed to the

Department that they would have been pleased to continue their

involvement had it not been for their commitments under the project.

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