Councillors’ housing benefit fears

29 June 2011

A councillor

Councillors across the country are worried they will be unable to cope with the strain on public services caused by cuts to housing benefit, new Shelter research has revealed.

A survey for Shelter by pollsters ComRes reveals that three in five (59 per cent) councillors in England believe there will be significant knock-on costs to their local authority as a result of the changes, which began coming into effect from April this year.

Much of the concern centres around strain on public services, with over half (52 per cent) of councillors fearing that families moving as a result of reductions to housing benefit will put extra pressure on schools, hospitals and advice and support services. Worryingly, 61 per cent believe that their local authority does not have sufficient resources to cope.

Overall, half (49 per cent) of councillors surveyed said they did not support the scale of the Government’s cuts, highlighting the extent of concern at local government level about impact of the changes in their area.

Shelter’s chief executive Campbell Robb said: ‘Shelter is already seeing an increased demand for our services, and all the evidence shows this will only get worse when these cuts start to bite.

‘Now we know that councillors across the country, and from all political parties, are also deeply concerned about the consequences of these changes and how they are going to deal with the fall-out from thousands of local people losing their homes.

‘It’s time councils made clear to Government the true impact of these changes on their local area so that plans can be put in place to prevent complete chaos from erupting in our communities.’

The survey also revealed overwhelming opposition among councillors to the principle of proposals in the Welfare Reform Bill to change the way housing benefit is calculated. The move will up-rate housing benefit in line with the Consumer Price Index (CPI), a national measure of inflation which does not include housing costs, instead of the changing cost of rents.

More than three quarters (76 per cent) of councillors surveyed said housing benefit should be based on rental costs in their local area and not on a measure of national inflation.

Mr Robb continued: ‘Local councillors know how variable housing costs are and that any effective system of housing support should reflect and respond to the cost of rents in the local area.

‘Government needs to listen to its own councillors and rethink further cuts to housing benefit in the Welfare Reform Bill which could lead to even more people losing their homes.’

About the survey

ComRes surveyed 1065 councillors across England online, between 1-13 June 2011. Results were weighted to be representative of all councillors in terms of party representation and regional distribution. ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules.  Full data tables can be found at www.comres.co.uk

Recent research by Shelter and the Chartered Institute of Housing showed that the switch to CPI will make a third of local authorities in England unaffordable for people on housing benefit within a decade of the change.