Rent Officers (Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Functions) (Modification) Order 2023: Bishop of Manchester supports motion to regret

The Bishop of Manchester spoke in support of a motion to regret moved by Lord Shipley (on behalf of Baroness Thornhill) on 22nd March 2023:

‘That this House regrets that the Rent Officers (Housing Benefit and Universal Credit Functions) (Modification) Order 2023 will freeze Local Housing Allowance (LHA) at the levels applied in April 2020 and therefore fails to account for inflationary increases in rent, resulting in vulnerable claimants spending a greater proportion of income on rent; further recognises that His Majesty’s Government’s inability to control inflation has resulted in unaffordable rents and contributed to housing insecurity for all tenants; and calls on His Majesty’s Government to align LHA with local housing rates.’

The Lord Bishop of Manchester: My Lords, I am very pleased to take part in this short debate. I would like to add my support to the Motion proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, and along with others wish her a speedy recovery. I am grateful for the impressive way in which the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, took this on at very short notice.

I declare my interest as set out in the register, I am the owner of one apartment, in Birmingham, currently privately let. I echo the concerns of other noble Lords. I had intended to add further statistics—I am a mathematician by background—but I think noble Lords have had enough numbers in this short debate already.

It is my privilege to chair the Manchester Homelessness Partnership, which brings together our city council along with public sector bodies, the private sector, universities, the blue light services, health services and charities. We have fought hard and long and we have actually got rough sleeping down in our city since its peak in 2018. But increasingly, my colleagues and I are finding that those who end up on the streets are not there for the usual reasons, such as the breakdown of a marital relationship or leaving the parental home after a dispute. It is also not just about mental health, although that is still a major concern. Increasingly, it is simply because they have lost a private tenancy due to being unable to pay the rent. We have heard how rents have gone up, but homelessness carries a huge cost. It is a heavy drain on public funds, as we have heard, but even more critically, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has said, it wrecks the lives of ordinary, decent members of our communities. It does not take long to end up homeless, but it takes years to get out of the pit you have fallen into. It is a long, slow and painful process, as I know from having befriended people who have been rough sleepers on the streets of my city.

I am also concerned by the opaque nature of explanatory material on this SI, provided by the Department for Work and Pensions. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report states that the explanatory material laid in support of the statutory instrument

“provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation”.

Indeed, it does not do much more than to state that,

“for 2021/22 and 2022/23, all rates were frozen at the same cash levels that were set in 2020/21”.

That is not an explanation—and there is no understanding of the policy in that. As the committee’s report states, this makes the House’s scrutiny role much more challenging. We need to know why something is being done if we are to scrutinise it properly.

To conclude, I add my support to the noble Baroness’s Motion and echo the calls of many in the housing sector, as well as noble Lords in this debate, who are urging the Government to unfreeze local housing allowance now.


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