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'HOUSING BENEFIT REFORM MUST DELIVER REAL CHOICE TO TENANTS'

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Shelter today welcomed the government's intention to reform the housing benefit system ...
Shelter today welcomed the government's intention to reform the housing benefit system (see LGCnet). Responding to a consultation paper published by the Department for Work and Pensions, it said it strongly backed the government's stated intention to give real choice to tenants and make the system fairer and simpler, as well as tackling delays and other administrative problems, which have caused severe hardship to tenants.

But the charity sounded a cautionary note about proposals to introduce incentives for tenants to 'shop around' in search of the cheapest accommodation. It warned that in some parts of the country, the lack of available accommodation and the high rents charged by landlords would make it difficult for tenants to exercise a choice over where they live and stressed that benefit payments must be sensitive to local variations in rent levels to enable them to gain access to decent accommodation.

Ben Jackson, Shelter's director of external affairs, said: 'The current system is a mess - it is failing thousands of tenants and in some cases is leading to homelessness. Shelter welcomes efforts to simplify the process and encourage people into work. But as the pathfinder schemes unfold we will be watching closely to check that choice is a reality for tenants and that benefit levels are sufficient to enable them to gain access to decent accommodation.'

Shelter reiterated its strong opposition to the withdrawal of housing benefit from anti-social tenants. Mr Jackson said: 'Taking away housing benefit is not an effective way of tackling anti-social behaviour, but would cause homelessness and exacerbate poverty among poor families. Tenants and communities need solutions that will tackle the underlying cause of the problem, rather than simply moving it on to a new set of neighbours.'

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