The cost-of-living crisis has provided conditions in which the already negative effects of key housing issues, such as lack of social and affordable housing and the impact of the benefit cap, have been most keenly felt by those least able to shoulder financial uncertainty.

Renters of private landlords may be eligible for help with their housing costs through Universal Credit (UC), or Housing Benefit, with the help provided being limited by the Local Housing Allowance (LHA). LHA rates have been frozen since 2020 but will go back up to cover the bottom 30% of local rents in April next year. This is a huge relief; Citizens Advice Woking (CAW) recently conducted a survey which showed that there was not a single private rental property available where the cost came within the LHA rate.

For instance, the rate for a three-bedroom property in Woking is £1,371.24 per month. For families who are working and receiving UC, and paying the average three-bedroom market rent of £2,050, there is a shortfall in their UC support of over £670 per month.

The situation is only slightly better in properties let at an ‘‘affordable’’ rent; rents set at or below 80% of market rental value. 80% of £2,050 per month would give a rent of £1,640, which is still £268 more than the LHA.

In addition, private landlords often refuse to rent to families who receive even part of their income from UC. It is small wonder that families seek help from the council’s housing register to access social council and Housing Association housing, where rents are generally around 50% of market value and are more likely to be covered in full by UC or Housing Benefit allowances.

However, council and Housing Association properties are rare. The council’s own Housing Facts and Figures report from January this year shows that, since April 2022, only 116 council-owned properties had been allocated, and in 2022/23, only seven affordable homes had been delivered as of the end of December.

Unsurprisingly, CAW has seen a significant rise in clients seeking help with homelessness as they cannot find anywhere to live. We spoke to a single parent with two children, currently in a two-bedroom flat and facing the threat of eviction.

Woking Borough Council Housing Options team calculated that, with UC topping up their part-time wages, the client could afford to rent a private three-bedroom property. They asked to view a two-bedroom property, but were told they did not meet the standard Rightmove affordability criteria. The criteria meant the client would need an income of £45,000 a year to rent the property they wished to view.

Four local estate agents also discriminated against the client, refusing to help them find a property because they are in receipt of UC to top up their wages.

The family have been on the Housing Register and in Band C since 2021, but they have yet to bid successfully on a three-bedroom property. An offer of social housing was made in 2019 but this was in a different area and they could not leave Woking for a number of reasons, including access to a Special Educational Needs school.

CAW will continue to support clients who are struggling financially and those facing eviction, both through the advice that we give and through our work raising research and campaign issues at a local and national level. We provide ever-increasing support for the council’s statutory duties regarding homelessness prevention work, giving general housing advice, advising about the Housing Register and Allocations Policy, and housing standards.

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By Citizens Advice Woking