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Chancellor should fund a Help to Rent scheme to help tackle homelessness

4 min read

We must commit to fund a National Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme and a Help to Rent scheme, says Bob Blackman MP.

We are all aware of the ongoing pressure on social housing stock and finding accommodation in the private rental sector is often the only realistic option for people threatened with homelessness or who have already found themselves in the streets. Yet we all know the difficulties people face in that due to the huge upfront costs associated with renting. It can take thousands of pounds to meet the costs of a deposit, tenancy or agency fees and the added impact of a requirement for rent in advance. This means that thousands of homeless people who are trying to rebuild their lives simply have no way of finding a home. It’s nothing less than a national scandal.

So what if there was a way to help around 32,000 people into rental accommodation who would not have been able to get into it before for these reasons, whilst also relieving local authority budgets, with forecasted savings in one year of amounts of between £175-595 million?

There is a way. I am supporting national homelessness charity, Crisis, with whom I have previously worked in order to bring forward primary legislation in the form of my Homelessness Reduction Act, in their calls for the Chancellor to use the opportunity of the Budget to fund projects that support homeless people and those who are at risk of homelessness. I believe we must commit to fund a National Rent Deposit Guarantee Scheme and a Help to Rent scheme and I have already made representations to the Chancellor directly on this.

A rent deposit guarantee is a written commitment from the Government to a landlord which guarantees a deposit for tenants who cannot afford to provide one themselves. It covers certain types of costs that the landlord may incur at the end of a tenancy including damages and in some cases rent arrears. Help to Rent schemes support vulnerable and homeless people into the private rented sector by helping with upfront costs like fees and deposits needed to rent. They also provide support to landlords, making it less risky for them to rent to people struggling with their finances. In schemes already up and running, 90% of tenancies lasted more than 6 months, meaning fewer people being forced to go to their local authority for help, taking pressure off council services.

The combined costings for these indicatives is £31 million per year, as costed by the Westminster Policy Institute (WPI), which I believe is a very small price to pay against not only the projected savings to local authorities, but against the human cost of homelessness. When we help people to avoid homelessness, we are helping them to prevent a spiral that can mean worklessness, poor health, mental health issues and exposure to risky situations on a daily basis. Right now, councils across the country are making preparations for the implementation of my Homelessness Reduction Act, and these measures would also feed into the transformation agenda for services towards prevention by giving providers further tools to help people before the crisis moment. This could prove particularly vital in highly pressurised housing markets like London and other major UK cities.

A report by the Residential Landlords Association showed that 80% landlords would be more willing to let to under-35s working with a rent deposit project. Furthermore, the Private Rented Sector Access Programme run by Crisis, which was funded by the DCLG between 2010 and 2014, had similar principles and created over 8,000 tenancies with 90% lasting over six months. This clearly the right way forward and I hope to see these measures form a major part of this Government’s policy agenda going forward.

Bob Blackman is the Conservative Member of Parliament for Harrow East

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