Claiming Housing Benefit
The coronavirus pandemic leaves very many London renters with no work at the moment. We’ve had lots of emails from people who urgently need to claim housing benefit. People with no written tenancy agreement are still being told that they are not entitled to claim. But whoever says that is wrong.
A tenancy is created through the practice of paying rent and occupying your home. As this was established by Section 54(2) of the Law of Property Act 1925, it’s nothing new. There’s information on how to claim LHA without a written tenancy agreement here.
But there’s more. If you can’t get anything in writing from your landlord, for whatever reason, you should make contact with a local advice agency. And if you’re aged over 55, your local AgeUK will also have advisors who can help you. If you can show an adviser some evidence (a mobile phone bill or official letters sent to you at your address) and perhaps proof of payment (a bank statement or any receipt the landlord has ever given you), they might be willing and able to write a letter, confirming that they are satisfied you are a tenant.
Increase in Local Housing Allowance rates
Many London renters are now out of work as a result of the pandemic. What a relief that Local Housing Allowance rates (used to calculate housing benefit’) are being lifted back up in line with the 30th percentile of local rents this month, then. It’s a welcome step towards ensuring that renters can claim support which does have some connection with the actual cost.
But if you’re renting in Inner London you may not feel the full benefit of the changes. The new caps on LHA will be set at the maximum Outer London LHA rates + 20%. In Central London, even with the new rates, the gap between LHA and the 30th percentile is £864 on average. On three and four bedroom properties, the gaps are £1382 and £1715, respectively.
Over 400,000 households live in privately rented homes in inner London. Many will still be left struggling to meet housing costs far higher than the level of support available.
So, more needs to be done to support those of us who need help to meet the high cost of housing. There are calls from all sides for government to increase LHA to median rent level, and to remove the benefit cap during this period of national crisis.
Also, we need an end to the five week wait between new Universal Credit claims and issue of actual payments. The current interim loan system leaves already-impoverished people unable to meet basic needs, as loan repayments are deducted from UC payments. Unless UC is delivered much faster, many more people are likely to fall into rent arrears, risking a sharp rise in debt and evictions in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic.
Government promised ‘a complete ban’ on evictions
Rather than the usual two months notice, until at least 30 September, landlords are required to give renters three months notice of eviction. John Healey (Shadow Secretary of State for Housing) on twitter, wrote
“This legislation does not stop people losing their homes as a result of coronavirus, just gives them some extra time to pack their bags“.
There were some 20,000 possession cases in the system when the announcement was made. On 27 March, these were suspended for at least 90 days and no new eviction cases can be brought in that time.
But overall, it’s disappointing and not what we expected when “a ban on evictions” was announced. In April 2019, the previous Conservative government acknowledged that the legislation is not fit for purposes and announced that they would end Section 21 of the Housing Act 1988 altogether.
The coronavirus pandemic has amply underlined all that is wrong with the current terms of renting. Government has said that the situation will be reviewed in three months. Now, we hope that Robert Jenrick, the current Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government, will uphold the promise made by his predecessor and scrap ‘no fault eviction’ altogether and push ahead with the Renters’ Reform Bill promised during the State Opening of Parliament.