ONLY nine of the area’s hundreds of so-called ‘affordable properties’ are truly in the reach of the families on housing benefit, a shock investigation has claimed.
The study, conducted by the Bureau of Investigative Journalism (BIJ), revealed how city families are being ‘priced out of almost all homes to rent in Britain’.
It claimed a three-year freeze in the local housing allowance (LHA) was to blame, with benefits payments failing to keep pace with the soaring prices faced by tenants renting privately.
Set by government, the LHA is supposed to reflect the bottom 30 per cent of each area’s market rate.
However, data from the bureau’s study today claimed that of the 412 two-bedroom properties available for rent in the area – that meet the LHA criteria – little more than two per cent could be afforded on the housing benefit, below the national average of five per cent.
The revelation has outraged city housing chiefs who have demanded urgent action from the government to lift its cash freeze.
Councillor Darren Sanders, Portsmouth’s housing boss, said: ‘The government must pull its finger out now to make sure people on low incomes can afford housing.’
Currently, the weekly LHA received by benefits claimants is set at £148.69, the BIJ said.
However, the average cost for a two-bedroom affordable home was £178.36, meaning families were £128.91 short of rent each month.
The national probe comes after a separate investigation by The News, in August, which revealed there were no two-bedroom homes that fell under the LHA limit.
Councillor Cal Corkery, Labour’s housing spokesman in Portsmouth, insisted the government took ‘urgent and decisive action’.
He said: ‘These figures are shocking but will come as no surprise to anyone supporting people with housing issues in Portsmouth.
‘Ever since the cuts to LHA rates made by the coalition government there have been growing disparities between private rents and what people on low incomes can afford to pay.
‘This, coupled with the reluctance of almost all private landlords and lettings agents to house people claiming benefits, many of whom are in work, has led to more and more people being excluded from the private rented sector.
Tory Councillor Luke Stubbs, chairman of the city’s housing and social care scrutiny panel, said Portsmouth’s issue ‘was not as bad’ as area like London.
However, he added: ‘The freezing of LHA undoubtedly caused on benefits problems.’
Earlier this year, Portsmouth City Council introduced an incentive programme, called Rent It Right, to encourage private landlords to take on those claiming benefits.
Cllr Sanders said this had been a success so far, with ‘dozens’ of landlords ‘expressing an interest’ in the scheme.
The government said it was investing more than £9bn in affordable housing an an additional £2bn in 2022.
A spokesman added: ‘Providing quality and fair social housing is an absolute priority. The government increased more than 360 LHA rates this year, by targeting extra funding at low-income households.’