tenants and boosting their job prospects, came a step nearer today.
Start dates were announced for the first time for the nine councils
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
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
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.'
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.