Single mother forced into homelessness by housing benefit shortfall goes to Supreme Court

January 31, 2019

 Child Poverty Action Group (CPAG) and homeless charity Shelter are supporting a Supreme Court case today on behalf of a lone mother who was treated as intentionally homeless because she didn’t use her non-housing benefits that are intended to cover other living costs to cover the £35 weekly gap between her housing benefit and her rent. Housing benefit covers only a portion of private sector rent in 95% of England’s broad rental areas.

The mother, Ms Samuels, got into rent arrears so her private sector tenancy was ended. But Birmingham City Council refused to treat her and her four children as unintentionally homeless on the basis that because she could, in theory, use some of her non-housing benefits to plug the shortfall between her housing benefit and her rent, her home was affordable. This decision had a devastating impact on the family.

The charities say the council was wrong to conclude that she could use her other non-housing benefit payments to meet the shortfall in rent on an ongoing basis, as this would have left her and her children with too little to live on.

 Child Poverty Action Group’s Head of Strategic Litigation Carla Clarke said:

 “The question in this case is whether it is right and lawful to force tenants to spend money intended for their most basic daily living needs such as food and heating on rent, because housing benefit has been eviscerated while rents continue to rise. We say it is not. No mother should have to see her children go short of essentials in order to pay the rent. Ms Samuels was unfairly treated by her local council which should have recognised her as unintentionally homeless since she could not meet both her family’s needs and cover the rent, given the shortfall in housing benefit. No one should be required to live below the income that Parliament has decided they should have for the basic essentials to keep a roof over their head.”

 Greg Beales, campaign director at Shelter said:

“Shelter and the Child Poverty Action Group have chosen to intervene in this case because we believe it is not lawful or right to expect families to scramble to find money from their day to day expenses to pay the sky high rents that housing benefit can’t cover. When someone is forced to choose between rent and keeping their children fed, they cannot be viewed as ‘intentionally’ homeless when they choose the latter.

“This situation is a damning indictment of our housing and benefits system, and how it too often works against the very people it is supposed to support. Housing benefit has not kept pace with rising rents for years and cases like this are the result: we are hearing from more and more families who are choosing between rent and meals.”

 

Notes to Editors:

 CPAG and Shelter are intervening in the case, Samuels v Birmingham City Council, which is led by Community Law Partnership, solicitors for Ms Samuels.

 Permission was granted for a Supreme Court hearing after the Court of Appeal rejected Ms Samuels' appeal against Birmingham City Council's decision to treat her as intentionally homeless.

 Local Housing Allowance (LHA) rates are used to determine housing benefit entitlement for tenants renting private sector accommodation. In 2011, LHA rates were restricted by the Government to the cost of rent at the 30th percentile of a household’s local market. Since 2016 the LHA rate has been frozen entirely and has not been adjusted at all for inflation, or the rising cost of rents. This has meant that the LHA rates are no longer matched to the actual cost of renting a home at the 30th percentile. The gap between the actual cost of renting a home in the private sector in a local area and what rental costs are met on housing benefits has widened and continues to widen. This narrows the pool of available and affordable rented homes for those in receipt of housing benefits for private rentals. The combination of factors of a widening gap between LHA rates and market rental costs and a shrinking pool of rental homes capable of being met in full by housing benefit means that it is almost inevitable that a household with children will not be able to find a private rented home that is affordable on housing benefit received for the purposes of covering rent.

 Shelter research found that in 95% of Broad Rental Market Areas (BRMAs) in England, there is a shortfall between the maximum amount of housing benefit which a household in need of a two-bedroom home can receive, and the actual cost of renting a two-bedroom home at the 30th percentile. In more than half (51%) of the BRMAs in England, households are seeing a shortfall of more than £50 a month between the maximum amount of housing benefit that they can receive for a two-bedroom home and the actual rental cost of such a home at the 30th percentile. In almost 1 in 4 (23%) of the BRMAs, families are seeing a shortfall of more than £100 a month between the actual cost of renting a two-bedroom home at the 30th percentile and the maximum housing benefit they can receive.

Media contacts:

Child Poverty Action Group - Jane Ahrends 0207 812 5216 or 07816 909302 or jahrends@cpag.org.uk

Shelter – Clare Keeling 0344 515 2162 or clare_keeling@shelter.org.uk