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LEWISHAM TO PILOT RADICAL NEW SCHEME FOR HOUSING BENEFIT

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Lewisham is at the forefront of a radical reform of Housing Benefit ...
Lewisham is at the forefront of a radical reform of Housing Benefit

launched by work and pensions minister Chris Pond.

The new scheme, the first major reform of Housing Benefit since its

introduction 20 years ago, will pay a flat rate 'Local Housing

Allowance,' varying only by the size of family. At present, Housing

Benefit is related to the total rent of a house or flat.

So tenants will have the chance to shop around, finding cheaper

property and pocketing the difference, or going up-market and making

up the extra rent themselves.

Set locally by rent officers, the allowance will be based on rents in

the area and the number of occupiers in their property. As now,

entitlement will be subject to proof of a valid tenancy.

Payment will normally be made directly to the tenant instead of the

landlord to encourage tenants to take responsibility for budgeting

and paying their rent themselves rather than having it paid for them.

Lewisham is one of nine Pathfinder areas that will test the scheme

which will run for two years. Evaluation of the Pathfinders will

inform the roll-out of the scheme across the country.

Chris Pond, who visited Lewisham today to see the new scheme for

himself, said: 'This new system for Housing Benefit will increase

choice and responsibility for tenants. It will be much simpler and

quicker to administer. Customers will also have greater certainty

about how much help with their housing costs they would receive if

they went back to work, helping them bridge the gap between being

unemployed and taking a job.'

Steve Bullock, mayor of Lewisham, said: 'We are delighted to be

included in this pilot scheme which will reform the way in which

Housing Benefit is administered. From today new claimants in Lewisham

will have a clearer idea of how much Housing Benefit they could

receive regardless of the property they choose to rent making it

easier to balance their weekly budget.'

Notes

1. The new scheme has been designed to pay the same amount to tenants

with similar circumstances living in the same area. This differs from

the existing scheme, which ties the level of benefit to the rent

actually paid (subject to a range of restrictions applied by a rent

officer). Currently, tenants who live in smaller properties than they

are entitled to, or less attractive properties, generally receive

less benefit than those with similar needs in the same area, who live

in larger or more attractive properties.

2. With the Local Housing Allowance there will no longer be a need to

ask for a 'pre-tenancy determination' - which told tenants how much

benefit they might receive for a particular property, which added

more time onto the overall process. Under the current system, tenants

often found that Housing Benefit could not meet their rent only after

they have already signed a tenancy agreement. This should happen less

frequently under the new scheme as a major uncertainty will have been

removed.

3. There will no longer be a need for the complex rent restrictions

and individual referral of rents to rent officers that currently

contribute to the delay in processing claims by private tenants. The

complexity of the Housing Benefit scheme makes efficient

administration difficult, illustrated by the fact that a new claim

takes an average of 47 days to be processed, with the bottom quarter

of authorities taking on average between 56 and 142 days. 4. Lewisham

is the second of nine councils to go live with the LHA. Blackpool

started on 17 November, Coventry and Teignbridge will start on 12

January, Brighton and Hove on 2 February and Edinburgh, North East

Lincolnshire, Conwy and Leeds on 9 February.

SIMPLER WAY OF PAYING HOUSING BENEFIT SUBSIDY TO LOCAL COUNCIL

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