Letters: Rent in arrears

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Tenants on benefit do not automatically have all their rent paid by housing benefit as Andrew Grice suggests ("Housing tax credit plan is shelved", 29 June). The "blank cheque" approach he describes will come as news to thousands of private tenants grappling with the impossible challenge of making up huge shortfalls in rent from breadline benefits intended to pay for food.

Shortfalls of pounds 40 a week between rent and housing benefit are not uncommon. Cheaper accommodation is simply not available. Rent arrears are inevitable, and Citizens Advice Bureaux see hundreds of people who have been made homeless or are at risk of eviction as a result.

Reform of the housing benefit scheme is certainly overdue. But it is depressing that the debate around reform continues to hinge on misapprehensions. The cost of housing benefit has doubled over the last decade because of enormous rent increases due to a government decision to deregulate rents and let housing benefit take the strain.

Our evidence repeatedly shows how a narrow preoccupation with containing expenditure can compromise broader government objectives and result in increased spending in other areas. Rent restriction rules are undermining strategies to improve the quality and quantity of private rented accommodation available, adding to local authority costs in housing homeless families, and undermining the aims of the new deal for under 25s. The housing benefit scheme should be reformed to provide the foundation of housing security on which other social policies can be built.

DAVID HARKER

Chief Executive

National Association of Citizens Advice Bureaux

London N1

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