Citizens Advice West Oxfordshire have written to the local parliamentary candidates asking them to support urgent action on Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates if elected next Thursday.

LHA rates should cover the cost of at least the lowest third of private rented properties. This would help constituents in West Oxfordshire who rely on help with housing costs and are struggling to find the extra rent as well as the cost of food and bills.

In Witney, only a fifth of the 3-bedroom properties on the private rental market in November 2019 were affordable on the Local Housing Allowance rate.

A commitment to end the benefit freeze won’t end the LHA freeze of four years, which requires separate legislation. LHAs will continue to decline in value unless increased in line with current local market rents. Ending the benefit freeze will somewhat help to halt the rising tide of poverty that has seen people turn to food banks when faced with the choice between feeding their family or paying their rent. However, only a rise in LHA rates will start to reverse the current trends.

Research from Crisis has found that if the UK Government invested in Local Housing Allowance so that it covered at least the cheapest third of private rents. This could prevent thousands of people from becoming homeless. It would also lift thousands more, including over 35,000 children, out of poverty.

A new poll from Crisis and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation reveals nearly three quarters (73%) of the public agree that increasing housing benefit so people don’t lose their homes in the first place is better than spending on emergency accommodation.

Until there are enough truly affordable homes built, housing benefit must cover the cost of rent. Without investment, the number of people experiencing homelessness will more than double in the next two decades.

Notes to editors

• The housing costs element of Universal Credit is calculated using Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates for the Broad Rental Market Area (BRMA). Nationally, LHA rates were reduced from the 50th percentile of average rents to the 30th percentile in 2011. To compound that reduction, LHA rates have fallen behind rent rises by 2% a year between 2013 and 2015 and have been completely frozen since 2016.

• Press release sources:

  • o Chartered Institute of Housing Report ‘Frozen Out’ (Nov 2019)
  • o Crisis Cover the Cost Campaign Briefing
  • o Local rent data from Zoopla, Rightmove and On The Market, 21/11/1
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