LETTER:Hunger or homelessness

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From Ms Tabitha Collingbourne

Sir: Under the present housing benefit rules, local authorities can restrict the amount of benefit paid towards rent if they decide that the accommodation is either too large for the claimant's needs or unreasonably expensive.

People who are sick, over 60 or have dependent children are given a degree of protection from these restrictions: they can only be made if there is alternative suitable accommodation available and it is considered reasonable for the claimant to move.

At present, local authorities spend pounds 14m per annum nationally on topping up payments to low-income families and the sick and elderly in accordance with these regulations.

From January 1996 this protection for "vulnerable" people will be removed. In its place, local authorities will have discretion to increase payments in cases of "exceptional hardship". In 1996, the funding for "exceptional hardship" cases will be capped at pounds 2m.

As a result, many families with children and many people who are sick or elderly and already living below the poverty line will be faced with the choice between paying for food and heating, and paying the rent: the choice between hunger and homelessness.

These are the people who are expected to dissuade fraudulent landlords from charging high rents, or to move "down-market", often to inadequate, insecure accommodation, if they can find it.

Is this how our political leaders exercise their "moral" and "family" values?

Yours faithfully,

Tabitha Collingbourne

Welfare Rights Adviser


Torquay, Devon

6 November