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'LABOUR MUST TACKLE IMMEDIATE HOUSING BENEFIT CRISIS': TORIES

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In response to yesterday's government ...
In response to yesterday's government statementon housing benefit reform, shadow work and pensions secretary David Willetts said:

'Housing benefit is in desperate need of reform. There is a strong case for moving to standard payments of housing benefit, rather than reimbursing everyone's actual rent. Indeed, that is why we introduced our standard rent scheme when we were in office.

'But so far all we have is 10 pathfinder projects and even if the scheme then goes nationwide, it will only cover 800,000 tenants of private landlords. We could end up with a separate regime for more than three million tenants in social housing. This would open up a new divide between private and public tenants.

'Meanwhile there is an immediate crisis in our housing benefit system which the government is simply not addressing. Councils are failing to pay some people their housing benefit and then making them homeless because of rent arrears. This disaster has to be tackled. And one reason for the problem is Labour's obsession with constantly changing the rules and regulations for administering housing benefit -they have produced over 400 different housing benefit circulars since 1997. That is what has pushed the system to the brink of collapse in some parts of the country. They should instead limit themselves to changing the regulation once or twice a year.

'It's time for the government to tackle this crisis, stop the constant chopping and changing of regulation, and move swiftly to implement full-scale reform.'

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